10/17/2017

Choose your words to give life or death (Proverbs 18:21)


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

10/06/2017

God is Fair in His Judgments (Ezekiel 16-19)


  • An unfaithful and promiscuous wife (Ezekiel 16).
  • Judgment based on sins of the present, not the past (Ezekiel 17). Eagle, ceders and a vine.
  • Basic common sense responsibility (Ezekiel 18). Each individual is responsible for himself/herself. The accountability of the individual.
  • The end of an era: the Davidic dynasty (Ezekiel 19).
Ezekiel 16. Having likened Israel as a bad vine (Ezekiel 15), it is almost as if Ezekiel heard someone say that it was not fair since Israel was the chosen vine, and thus God should care for her. Ezekiel answered through an allegory that God had always and continually cared for Israel (Ezekiel 16). Having found her as a castaway infant, God rescued, wooed, married and adorned her. But she became unfaithful. As a harlot, she prostituted herself with other nations in following after their gods as her lovers. Throughout her history she had rebelled against God. Her wickedness had become even worse than that of Sodom and Samaria before her. Therefore, God was perfectly just in bringing judgment upon her. He promised at her birth that she would be judged if she disobeyed His covenant with her (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 30). Though the situation looks extremely bleak at this point, God reminded the exiles that He would be faithful to His promise of restoration in the future (Deu 30), just as He would be faithful to His threats of judgment.

Ezekiel 17. In light of the allegory of Ezekiel 16, one might have complained that the present generation was being judged for Israel's past rebellions. So Ezekiel presented a riddle which emphasizes that the rebellion of the present generation against God was by seeking security and help from Egypt (Ezekiel 17). There is no hope in seeking help from Egypt nor in following Zedekiah. There is only a hope in the restoration of God's kingdom and His righteous King, the Messiah. Zedekiah would fall, and the remnant would be scattered.

Ezekiel 18. Ezekiel treats another prevalent major misconception. "Are we judged because of our father's sins?" Ezekiel refutes this by emphatically stating that each man or woman is responsible for his or her own deeds. It is the principle of individual responsibility. Each individual is responsible for themselves as to whether they would live or die. A person lives or dies according to their own decision to obey or disobey God's ways (Dt 30:15-20). But God declares that is is His desire that everyone lives. This is why He gave the Law. It is so that everyone would know how to live as God meant life to be lived. If one lives according to the righteous ways of God, they would be declared righteous and live. But if they disobeyed God's righteous ways and broke the covenant, God promised that they would die as a result of their unrighteous deeds.

The penalty here was physical death, not eternal death. One's eternal salvation was not the issue. Eternal salvation was by faith in the Messiah in OT times, just as it is today. Salvation was never attained by keeping the stipulations of the Law, nether then nor now. The Law of Moses/Mosaic covenant demonstrated how one who already had entered into a relationship with God was to continue to live.

Ezekiel 19. The section (Ezekiel 12-19) concludes with a final dirge/funeral lament for the recent rulers of Judah: Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin/Jehoiakim. The genuine rules were gone. They last one was Josiah. Since the ruler Jehoiachin was already exiled in Babylon (597 BC), the peopole were not to look to unofficial rules such as Zedekiah. Judgment was imminent.

Alexander, Ralph. Ezekiel. Moody Bible Institute, 1976.

10/05/2017

Exile, False Prophets and Idolatry (Ezekiel 12-15)

Sign of the Siege (Ezekiel 12)
  1. Judgment is greatest for those with the richest spiritual tradition. Those with no ears or eyes may be forgiven for their indifference or oblivion. But in the face of God's lavish expressions of covenant grace and patience, the refusal to hear and see not only results in the further dulling of the senses; sooner or later the door of divine mercy will slam shut.
  2. God's word must be understood on God's terms. Like Ezekiel's audience we are often tempted to adjust divine revelation to suit our desires, rather than letting it shape us. By clever rationalization we transform messages of reproof and correction into illusory promises of hope.
  3. In the face of calamity God remains sovereign over history. When things fall apart we may despair that God is no longer in control. But his hand is present even in the direst circumstances. The goal of his discipline, as well as his benefactions, is that all may:
    1. acknowledge their sinfulness,
    2. confess his righteousness, and
    3. submit to his lordship.
  4. Judgment is always just in God's system of justice. Sodom and Gomorrah's violent end was on account of their own brutality (Gen 18:20; 19:24-25). But the Judge of all the earth (Gen 18:25) plays no favorites. When the land is filled with violence once again, it must be emptied, irrespective of the identity of its inhabitants. The coming judgment on Jerusalem serves as a solemn warning to those who call themselves his people, or consider themselves cultured but express their disrespect for God through violent and inhuman conduct.
  5. Even in times of crisis people may live under the illusion that all is well. Eating and drinking are necessary for physical health. But God taught his people during their years of wondering, which Jesus reminded the devil that people do not live by bread alone (Dt 8:3; Mt 4:4). Life is found not merely in physical sustenance but in following the example of Ezekiel -- finding nourishment in the revelation of God and living by it. To those who do so, God pronounces the sentence of life; those who refuse face the sentence of death.
  6. The certainty of the fulfillment of God's word is based on the person and character of God (12:21-28). The challenges of arrogant and rebellious people will not change the fact that when God speaks he acts. Within a few years of this utterance the cynics would be silenced by the terrible truth of his word. Also, God's method of reckoning time is different from ours, and we may be much nearer the day than we realize.
Counterfeit Prophets (Ezekiel 13)

13:1-16 serves as a warning to all who would claim to be spokespersons for the living God by identifying the marks of a counterfeit. What do false Bible teachers characteristically do and who are they?
  1. They claim divine authority, even when they speak only from their own inspiration. Their perspective was simply private opinion that was politically motivated to gain the approval and control of their audience. Expert training, oratorical gifts, a charismatic personality, long tenure and a wealth of experience may qualify one to lecture or perform or entertain, but these aptitudes alone do not authorize one to stand behind the pulpit. The message of those who claim to speak for God must have his signature. Does our proclamation declare the message of God as revealed in the Scriptures?
  2. They proclaim messages that people want to hear, especially when the truth is painful. For the exiles and the Jerusalemites no word would have been more welcome and at the same time more deadly than to hear that all was well. Reassurances of well being serves neither the community nor individuals in moral and spiritual decline. For many the illusion becomes the reality. They live in the land of "all is well" even when nothing is.
  3. They are more interested in their own status than in the welfare of the community. They are like jackels (Eze 13:4), scavenging among the ruins for personal advantage, capitalizing on the calamity of others. Frauds assume no responsibility for the fate of the people; they look out only for themselves.
  4. They pass away. Only the word of the Lord endures (Isa 40:7-8) and achieves its life-giving objectives (Isa 55:10-11).
  5. They stand under the judgment of God. One who is self-inspired to claim to speak for God is the height of arrogance, and to seduce gullible people with flattering words or threats is utter folly. But God is not mocked. What leaders sow, that they will reap.
  6. They occupy positions of power but they will answer to God for the manner in which they exercised their authority. The leadership exercised by the women (13:17-23) was reprehensible in two ways: their motives were parasitic, and their methods were sinister. They were interested only in their own status. Such problems continue to plague the community of faith. Men and women enter the ministry of the church, driven more by a hunger for power than passion for the people, and they exercise power in ways often indistinguishable from the world outside. But the kingdom of God is offered to the meek, not to the arrogant and self-assertive. Whoever would truly be a leader at all must be a servant of all.
  7. They exploit the vulnerable especially in times of crisis. Difficult experiences may leave one doubting God's presence and power. Peter personalizes the power behind evil, describing him as an adversary, the devil, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8). But the believer must know that God has provided all the resources needed to resist the malevolent world (Eph 6:11-12). Ultimately, the kingdom of light and life will triumph over the kingdom of darkness and death (Jude 24-25).
Idolatry Condemned (Ezekiel 14:1-11)
  1. Idolatry is a matter of mind/heart (Eze 14:2). God is directing his charges against his people not at images but at the deluded hearts and minds that have been seduced or deceived. True religion is essentially a matter of the heart (Dt 6:5; 10:12, 20). Thus, we are always to search our hearts (Ps 139:23), circumcise our hearts (Dt 10:16; 30:6; Rom 2:29) and to guard our hearts (Prov 4:23). 
  2. Syncretism is always a threat. Ezekiel's compatriots--as they have been doing throughout their history--are "hopping between two opinions" (1 Ki 18:21). Externally, their appearance before the prophet and their inquiry appears commendable (Eze 14:1). But internally, their hearts were not centered nor focused on God. They may camouflage their hypocrisy and deceive humans, but they will not escape the scrutiny of God (Eze 14:2-4).
  3. God does not respond to those who demonstrate no covenant faithfulness in their daily lives. To receive a favorable answer from God one must come with sincerity, honesty and on his terms, which includes his exclusive right to one's devotion (Eze 14:5). God tolerates no rivals.
  4. Positions of privilege do not bring immunity from prosecution (Eze 14:9-10), but impose even greater accountability before our God and Judge. The prophet's task is to announce the truth and to call people to repentance for their sin (Eze 14:6), not to satisfy their lusts with false assurances of peace. True leaders are known by the divine authority of their message (Eze 14:4a, 6a), not by the popularity of their pronouncements. Thus, leaders who acquiesce before the flattery and seduction of hypocritical inquirers become accomplices in their crimes and receive the same punishments (Eze 14:10).
  5. God is gracious and merciful to all who repent of their sin. Warnings of imminent judgment are often veiled signs of divine mercy. God's appeals to repentance offer specific hope of finding a sensitive ear with him. But the cry for mercy must be combined with a commitment to a new way of life (Eze 14:5, 11). 
  6. In judgment God is not arbitrary, capricious, moody nor random. God's responses to human sin are consistent with his immutable character, and they have as their goal the transformation of sinful human beings into a covenant people, pure and exclusive in their devotion to him (Eze 14:5, 11).
Judgment will not be averted by the righteous few (Ezekiel 14:12-23)
  1. Each person is responsible for his or her own welfare (Eze 14:14, 16, 18, 20). Children may not bank on the piety of their parents, nor an entire church depend on one or two righteous persons. However, there is hope and mercy for all who are righteous by God's standards, even for those who appear to be outsiders to the community of faith.
  2. God is just in all his ways. The carnal mind struggles with the justice of God in the face of human tragedy. But the eyes of faith will recognize behind all tragedies the hand of God. God's people recognize that he does not operate arbitrarily or without cause. His actions are always according to his immutable principles of justice and righteousness. If people experience his wrath, it is because the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).
A metaphor (Ezekiel 15)
  1. The claim to divine election is no substitute for covenant faithfulness. Israel's false claim to security is based on their being the royal vine, the privileged people of God. However, they must respond to the call of this high role with willing obedience to the divine King who has called them to himself. Grace places high demands on its recipients. Unless one matches one's claims with adherence to his will, one may well wake up one day to the reality that far from being his or her protector and patron, God has actually become the adversary (Eze 15:5).
  2. The judgment of those who do not match profession with faithfulness is severe. Jesus likewise warns his disciples to bear the fruit of obedience to God (Jn 15:1-2, 6, 8-17).

10/04/2017

Ezekiel 8-24 Outline

Ezekiel's Vision of God's Departure from the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8-11)
  1. Preamble to the first temple vision (8:1-4).
  2. The abominations in the temple (8:5-18).
  3. God's response to the abominations in the temple (9:1-11).
  4. The burning of Jerusalem and God's departure from the temple (10:1-22).
  5. The pot of stew (11:1-13).
  6. The gospel according to Ezekiel (11:14-21).
  7. Epilogue to the temple vision (11:22-25).
Prophecies of Woe against Israel (Ezekiel 12-24)
  1. Signs of the Times (12:1-20)
    1. Packed for exile (12:1-16).
    2. A pantomime of horror (12:17-20).
  2. Prophecy -- True and False (12:21-14:11)
    1. Two oracles against cynics (12:21-28).
    2. Two oracles against counterfeit prophets (13:1-23).
    3. The oracle against prophetic abuse (14:1-11).
  3. The High Price of Treachery (14:12-15:8)
    1. A lecture on divine justice (14:12-23).
    2. A metaphor on divine judgment (15:1-8).
  4. The Adulterous Wife: Trampling Underfoot the Grace of God (16:1-63)
    1. The call for Israel's arraignment (1-3a).
    2. The indictment of Jerusalem (3b-34).
    3. The sentencing of Jerusalem: The Ssuspension of grace (35-43).
    4. Like mother, like daughter: Jerusalem's disqualification from grace (44-52).
    5. The double ray of Hope (53-63).
  5. Messages of Sin and Retribution (17-22)
    1. The eagle and the vine: A fable (17).
    2. Disputing the justice of God (18).
    3. A "lament" for the Davidic dynasty (19).
    4. Rewriting sacred history (20).
    5. The avenging sword of God (21).
  6. O Oholah! O Oholibah! (23)
    1. The introduction of the accused (1-4).
    2. The historical background of the case (5-35).
    3. The case against Oholah and Oholibah (36-49).
  7. The Boiling Cauldron (24:1-14)
    1. Preamble (1-3a).
    2. The popular saying (3b-5).
    3. The dispute (6-8).
    4. The counterthesis (9-13).
    5. Conclusion (14).
  8. The End of an Era (24:15-27)
    1. The end is prefigured: The death of Ezekiel's wife (15-24).
    2. The end is in sight (25-27).

New Bible Commentary

  • Jerusalem's idolatry and its punishment (8-11).
  • An acted message: exile foretold (12:1-16).
  • An acted message: Israel to tremble (12:17-20).
  • Prophecy will be fulfilled ... and fulfilled soon (12:21-25, 26-28).
  • Condemnation of false prophets and prophetesses (13).
  • Condemnation of idolatry (14:1-11).
  • Judgment on Israel will not be averted by the righteous few (14:12-23).
  • Jerusalem the useless vine (15).
  • Jerusalem the unfaithful and promiscuous wife (16).
  • Eagles, cedars and a vine -- a political parable (17).
  • The accountability of the individual (18).
  • Lament for the princes of Israel (19).
  • Israel's persistent rebelliousness (20:1-44).
  • Judgment by fire (20:45-49).
  • Judgment by the sword (21:1-7).
  • The sword is sharpened (21:8-17).
  • The sword of the king of Babylon (21:18-32).
  • The sin of Jerusalem (22:1-16).
  • The smelting of Israel (22:17-22).
  • Injustice in the land; corruption at every level (22:23-31).
  • Oholah and Oholibah -- adulterous sisters (23).
  • The parable of the pot: Jerusalem beseiged (24:1-14).
  • The death of Ezekiel's wife and the significance of his grief (24:15-27).

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.
  3. McGregor, L. John. Ezekiel, New Bible Commentary, IVP, Downer's Grove, IL, 1994.

9/26/2017

Ezekiel's First Temple Vision (Ezekiel 8-11)

Ezekiel's first temple vision is profound not only for the vision of God it proclaims, but also for its analysis of the human soul. How might this vision be relevant today?
  1. Directed by God, his Spirit and the words of the prophet. True religion is demonstrated not only in ethical conduct but also in worship acceptable to God. Authentic worship lets God be God on his own terms, not our terms. Anything else places the worshiper above the deity, which is the essence of idolatry. This is also a delusion. The elders in the dark and the women appear to be sincere in their ritual expression. However they were sincerely misguided. Instead of gaining God's favor, they only provoked his wrath and closed his ears. True worship is driven by God's Spirit and focuses on the reality of his person.
  2. False worship leads to false morality. When people presume to define the character of God they also tend to redefine their own ethical standards. Abominations in the temple were accompanied by social acts of violence (Eze 8:17). Worship not only offers an opportunity to express one's fundamental relationship with God; it also shapes one's character. Unless the encounter with God produces a firmer determination to doing the will of God, the worship has not been conducted in spirit and in truth.
  3. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. The image of judgment in Ezekiel 9 is offensive to the modern reader. How can God decree the elimination of an entire population, including the innocent? But the fury of divine wrath must be perceived against the backdrop of his grace. Instead of responding to their special status as a chosen people (Ex 19:5-6) with gratitude and humility, the Israelites became arrogant, presuming upon the goodwill of their covenant Lord. But God will not be mocked. If he demanded the elimination of the Canaanites because of their depravity, then when the Israelites behave like Canaanites, they can expect no other fate (Dt 8:19-20).
  4. God is sovereign over his own destiny. When God leaves the temple, he does not depart as a captive of some foreign invader, while trying to prove that he is still God. God abandons the city by his own decision, for his own reasons, in his own time and by his own means. Only the eyes of faith will recognize that the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians was not a sign of God's weakness or demise. Only the eyes of faith recognize that by voluntarily abandoning his temple, he has delivered his people over to the enemy.
  5. God is not tied to any one place or temple (or church or ministry or methodology). God had indeed chosen Mount Zion as the site for his name to dwell, and for his glory to reside there in the temple as a visible sign of his presence (Ps 132:14). But God will not be boxed in by a house built with human hands. God's true abode is in heaven (1 Ki 8:25, 30, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49). For humans to insist that he reside only in the temple in Zion is deluding. Human rebellion and idolatry may cause him to leave his earthly palace. But he remains enthroned in the heavens, from where he is able to respond to all who call on him.
  6. When God abandons his people, they lose all right to his favor and his protection. The turning point in Israel's history came not with the accession of Zedekiah or even the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem, but the departure of the glory of the King of heaven from his temple. According to Ezekiel's vision, historical events are indeed reflections of realities determined in the heavenly plane. To this day nothing has changed. To Paul the primary battles are still spiritual, and they are waged in the heavenlies (Eph 6:10-20). Once God has decreed the fall of the city and has departed from his temple, neither human strength nor angelic force could defend the city against his agent, the invader.

9/19/2017

I Am Against You (Ezekiel 5:8)

"--therefore, here is what the Lord Yahweh has declared: 'I am against you! I myself! And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations" (Ezekiel 5:8). "My eye will not have pity, Nor will I spare. On the contrary, I will hold you accountable for your conduct, While your abominations persist within you. Then you will know that I am Yahweh who smites(Ezekiel 7:9).
  1. Calling (1-3): The Call of Ezekiel.
  2. Judgment (4-32):
    1. God's judgment on Judah and Jerusalem (4-24).
      • Against Jerusalem (4-5).
      • Against the mountains (6).
      • Against the land (7).
    2. God's judgment on the nations (25-32).
  3. Salvation (33-48): God's restoration of Israel.
I. God's Judgment: Against Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4-5)

God's reaction to the rebellion of his city is cast in the form of a challenge to a duel.
  1. The combatants are identified. God steps forward as the challenger. Jerusalem is identified as his opponent (Eze 5:5). The announcement opens with an emphatic declaration, confrontation and challenge: "I am against you! I myself!" ("Behold me, against you, even I"). It may be like one person challenging another in man-to-man combat. This sharply contrasts "I am with you" (Gen 28:15; 26:3; 31:3), an expression of presence and support. This signifies God's repudiation of his patronly obligations to his people. This affirms orally what Ezekiel's sign-actions have communicated non-verbally, especially the siege model and the iron griddle (Eze 4:1-3). God has assumed the posture of an enemy, intent on destroying his own people. "I myself" reflects the emotional intensity of the challenger and focuses the audience's attention on him. There can be nothing more frightening than this!
  2. God announces his goal: to execute judgment (punishment) on Jerusalem.
  3. The site of the bout is identified and emphasized: "in your midst," in the very midst of the city. The city will be transformed from a place of refuge to an arena of combat.
  4. The spectators are introduced. The duel will happen "in the sight of the nations." Since God's relationship with his people had never been a secret or private affair, it is fitting that those whose conduct Jerusalem had emulated should be called on to witness God contend with his people.
What are the implications of the message communicated by Ezekiel's dramatic performances?
  1. Privilege must be accompanied by responsibility (Lk 12:48). Jerusalem had been appointed to a unique role among the nations. Only the nation she represented was party to a covenant relationship with God. Only she had experienced the revelation of his will. Only in her was his sanctuary to be found. But God's treasured possession, his kingdom of priests, his holy nation, had wallowed in the mud of rebellion, desecrated the sanctuary, and defiled itself. Instead of serving as a model of purity, she had won the international contest in wickedness. Her example serves as a stern warning that anyone who claims to have the name of God's own chosen people may become worse than those who are not God's people. Are Christians worse than non-Christians today?
  2. Those who presume upon the light of God's grace must reckon with the darkness of his fury. The danger of perceiving God from only one side is always present and can lead to a romantic view of one's relationship with God. But God will not and has never condoned infidelity, rebellion, wickedness, abominations. God watches over his covenant with passion. Those who claim to be his people may not exchange him for another god without cost to themselves. To do so is to transform "See, I am with you" to "See, I am against you."
  3. The relationship between God and his people is open to public view. God placed Jerusalem at the center of the nations so that they might witness the joy of a covenant relationship with God. God staked his reputation on her. Since she failed publicly, she must also bear her humiliation before the eys of the world. Thus, the nations will learn who God is: he is not only gracious but also passionate, demanding absolute and exclusive allegiance. While Jerusalem bears the insults of mockers, the pain extends to the heart of God. He too will ultimately feel the sting of the cynics' slander (Eze 36:20).
  4. God, not some other god or anyone else, is the master of life and death. God not only wields a deadly sword but also has at his disposal a series of agents through which his sentences against a wicked nation are executed.
  5. The word of the Lord is sure; he does not speak in vain. From the time God entered into covenant with his people, he had warned them of the consequences of infidelity. These warnings are about to be fulfilled, precisely as uttered. In 593 B.C. Ezekiel pronounced this word of judgment; in 586 his prophetic status was confirmed.
II. God's Judgment: Against the Mountains (Ezekiel 6)

The bad news continues.
  1. God is grieved, heartbroken (Eze 6:9). There is an impassioned side of God's character. He is grieved. He gets angry.
  2. The people were sincerely in error...while being sincere in their religious commitment. The people's hearts were adulterous and idolatrous (Eze 6:9). Idolatry is more than spiritual adultery; it is devotion to futility.
  3. God is faithful to his covenant, to the very letter! Far from responding to human rebellion impulsively or arbitrarily, he reacts predictably, in accordance with his righteous character, and in keeping with the terms of the covenant. This affirms his unchanging nature. He is the Lord. He has spoken. He acts accordingly.
  4. God never cancels out his grace no matter how severe his judgment. God may sweep across the landscape with the sword and visit the earth with manifold judgments, but he has always preserved for himself a remnant of those who would serve him.
  5. We should see ourselves as God sees us. Despite our elevated status within creation as images of God (Gen 1:26-31; Psalm 8), nothing within us warrants God's love. The focus on our own innate goodness and on the positive self-images is delusory. To be chosen as an object for divine grace does not reflect on the goodness of the individual but on the character of the living God. A true encounter with God will provide more realism to one's self-understanding than our own self-delusion regarding our own goodness. In the face of God's unblemished purity, holiness and goodness, his unswerving faithfulness and his immeasurable grace, sinners begin to see sin for what it really is, an abominable evil that defiles our entire being. Apart from the recognition of our depravity, mercy has no room to work.
III. God's Judgment: Against the land of Israel (Ezekiel 7)

In addition to reinforcing many of the themes developed in the previous chapters, Ezekiel 7 adds several new dimensions to our understanding of the ways of God and the nature of humankind.
  1. Cynicism and independence results from the loss of vision of God and of the sense of awe and wonder of his grace. In such a society without a real sense of God, revival must start with a renewed vision of and obeisance and submission to the living God, who will in any case have the last word on human history.
  2. Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind (Hos 8:7). A society (or individual) may not violate the moral and spiritual will of God with impunity and expect to escape the consequences of their behavior. Those who practice evil bring ruin on themselves. If we pursue a course apart from God, we must know that God will ultimately call us to account and heap on us the due rewards of our deeds. God's punishment is neither arbitrary nor capricious. It is perfectly consistent with his declared standards of justice and in keeping with the offenses that we have committed.
  3. Never be complacent or indifferent toward evil, even if God delays his visitation. Even as believers we are ever tempted to (a) assume that God overlooks sin and that he is obligated to visit us with his favor, and (b) relegate God's intervention in human affairs to a distant eschatological event (2 Pet 3:3-4). The distinction between the eschaton and the present is false. All who practice evil stand in danger of the judgment of God -- now. 
  4. Depending on our false sense of security. God can undermine all the supports on which we may base our security. Under God's judgment the wealth of the rich turns to rubbish, the futility of idolatry is exposed, and the resources found in human institutions are annulled. God can turn their evil on the wicked in a moment, and when he does nothing will deliver them. Relief cannot be purchased. Deliverance cannot come from false gods. Those who seek shalom from people (their leaders) will be disappointed.
  5. God can use for his own purposes--even those who do not acknowledge him. On the contrary, God exercises full authority over the most wicked of nations and uses them as instruments of wrath on his people. It is not that God delights in punishing his people, ungrateful through we may be. God treasures his covenant relationship with his people, and his harsh treatment is driven ultimately by a desire to draw them back to himself. But in the face of persistent rebellion by his own people, to their shame, violent and ungodly instruments may be called on to serve as agents of divine discipline (Habakuk 1-2).
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.

9/11/2017

Ezekiel's Response and God's Restrictive Instructions (Ezekiel 3b)

Eze 3:14-15 offers a window into Ezekiel's heart and mind.
  1. He is bitter (Eze 3:14a). It expresses his mood and contrasts it with the sensation he had enjoyed after eating the scroll (Eze 3:3).
  2. He is angry (deeply disturbed) (Eze 3:14b). Literally, he was "angry in his spirit." Apparently, Ezekiel is infuriated by the divine imposition on his life and the implications of God's commission for him. The prophet does share some of the hardened disposition of his compatriots.Rather than offering the prophet consolation, or promising his presence, God continued to pressure the prophet with his strong hand (Eze 3:14c).
  3. He is deeply distressed (stunned) (Eze 3:15). The account ends with Ezekiel sitting for seven days in the midst of the exiles. The word means "to be desolate, appalled" with the range of nuances it conjures: silence, desolation, despair, distress, shock. What may have caused him to have such strongly negative emotions that left him in a wretched state -- socially ostracized, physically exhausted and emotionally disturbed?
    1. The encounter with God.
    2. The digestion of the scroll.
    3. The charge to go and preach to an unresponsive audience.
    4. The hardening of his forehead.
    5. The sound of the throne-chariot,
    6. The pressure of the hand of God upon him.
Thus he sat among his fellow exiles for an entire week, resisting the call of God, but feeling the relentless pressure of God's hand upon him. When called by God Jeremiah did not sit with others but sat alone (Jer 15:17). Ezekiel, however, does not sit alone, and this is his problem. To be used by God he must be weaned from his compatriots. But this separation, this distancing of the prophet from his people, does not come easily. For a week he struggles inwardly with God, with his calling, and with the message he is charged to proclaim. When he submits to God he is a man set apart, under orders from God. His calling (to prophetic ministry) was not only an invitation to be the spokesman for the glorious God; it also involved a sentence to a life of loneliness, alienation and desolation. Physically he lived among his own people, but spiritually he would operate in another realm, a zone governed by divine realities. In the end he emerges a conscript (compulsory service) for the kingdom of God, a man totally possessed of the Spirit of God.

In the 4 case scenarios (3:16-21), the following themes emerge:
  1. Judgment. Those who reject God's word (covenant) fall under the judgment of God. Ezekiel's words emphasizes the accountability of the individual sinner (Eze 3:18-20). Thus, an individual cannot hold others responsible for his or her own guilt. Although Ezekiel's ministry will be concerned primarily with the nation's fate, Israel's salvation depends on the covenantal fidelity of individual citizens.
  2. The wages of sin. The wages of sin is death. The wicked are by definition opposed to God and his word and to the covenant. Ezekiel's warning is to members of the authentic covenant community, those who have in the past trusted in God and submitted to his lordship. God's word through Ezekiel establishes the seriousness of perseverance in the faith. It is not how one begins the race that counts, but how one ends. 
  3. The grace of God. The voice of the prophets symbolize the grace of God reaching out to those under the sentence of death. A backslider's righteousness will not be credited to him if he persists in sin, so the previous evil of the sinner will not be held against him if he repents of the error of his way. God is on the side of life, even for the wicked, rather than intent on death.
  4. Responsibility. With the privilege of being a prophet comes an awesome responsibility for the people under their stewardship. To be negligent in the fulfillment of one's calling and duty is a capital crime. The prophet is to sound the horn not only when God sends the signal but as God dictates. The message of God is that sin and wickedness require a radical prescription: repentance and casting oneself totally on the mercy of God.
  5. Faithfulness, not success. The messenger of God is called not to success but to faithfulness. God's calling is not "to save souls" (which is God's affair), but to proclaim the message he receives from the word of God. Faithfulness in service is measured not by effectiveness but by fidelity to the divine charge.
God's instructions and requirements for Ezekiel's job--which are restrictive measures--are:
  1. Go home and shut yourself up in your house (Eze 3:24).
  2. Your fellow exiles will tie you up with ropes, preventing you from circulating among them (Eze 3:25).
  3. God will cause his tongue to stick to the roof of his mouth, rendering him speechless (Eze 3:26). This may be a divinely imposed silence, or a call for voluntary self-imposed silence. Yet Ezekiel does address his audience orally, delivering messages he receives from God (Eze 3:27). This suggests that there are temporary suspensions of his malady of speechlessness, or they may represent voluntary utterances of God's word (oracles/prophecies), since one of Ezekiel's primary roles is to function as Israel's accuser. Thus, his speechlessness cannot represent a prohibition on rebuking or pronouncing guilt.
Ezekiel's dumbness and God's explicit denial of intercessory liberty may also represent one or more means of God dealing with his resistance to his calling. For seven days Ezekial sat among his fellow exiles, resisting the call to be God's mouthpiece. This became a seven-year speechlessness (Eze 24:27): one year of divinely imposed speechlessness for one day of self-determined resistance. This formula of one year for one day resurfaces in chapter 4, Ezekiel's first recorded sign-act (Eze 4:4-6). From now on Ezekiel must stifle any impulse to side with his people, or to mediate on their behalf. Through his calling, God had served notice that the fate of the nation was sealed. The sentences of lamentation, mourning and woe cannot be withdrawn (Eze 2:10). By imposing this dumbness God denies him the freedom to avert the fall of Jerusalem either by appealing for a reprieve or calling the people to repentance. Inwardly he may weep for his compatriots and long for their salvation, but personal sentiment may not interfere with his official duty as a watchman/sentry.

Ezekiel's calling and initiation into prophetic office reiterates and strengthens the following:
  1. God is present with his messenger. The glory of God, the visible sign of his divine presence appears at three stages in Ezekiel's call. But the glory symbolizes more than mere presence. It reminds the one who is called of the supreme majesty and sovereignty of the one who has called him, and by association the privilege of the vocation. In spite of the turmoil outside, God's servants may be secure in the knowledge that all is well for them in the hands of the ever-present Lord.
  2. God's ways are often strange and inscrutable. The drama enacted in Ezekiel's house portrays the complete mastery of God over his servant. God first calls him to preach. Then he closets him away in his own house and ties his tongue. The messenger's role is like that of a puppet on a string. He dare not challenge the ways of God, or even call for an explanation, any more than clay may question the work of the potter (Jer 18:1-6).
  3. Your mouth should not be interfered by your emotions. The messenger's heart may not interfere with his mouth. His resolve must match the determination of the one whose message he is to announce. The message may not be pleasant or palatable, or even comprehensible. But as God issues the orders, one must respond. At times, a spokesman for God must stifle his or her emotions and the inclinations of his or her heart, not letting personal preference interfere with divine obligation.
  4. Bear the signs of your calling. The prophet bears in his own body the signs of his calling. Ezekiel is infused with the spirit of him whom he represents and is dedicated to the proclamation of his message.

9/06/2017

Ezekiel's Commission (Ezekiel 2-3a)

In seeing visions of God (Eze 1:1) Ezekiel's encounter with God suggests important lessons about God. Similarly the commission narrative offers vital information on the relationship between God and those whom he calls into his service. Whoever would serve as a messenger of God must know or have a sense of the following:
  1. The calling comes from God alone.The God who appoints his servants also i) defines the task, ii) chooses the field of service, iii) provides the message and iv) assumes responsibility for the outcome. The less evident the fruit of one's ministry, the more critical is a clear sense of calling.
  2. A clear vision of the one who sends him or her. Unless the servant of God enters divine service with a sense of awe at the privilege of representing the glorious King of heaven and earth, and unless one is convinced of God's sovereignty over all the earth and over all of human history, the ministry will be burdensome, result in burn out and in one's undoing--especially when the opposition is strong and fruit is absent.
  3. Empowered by the Spirit of God. Ezekiel was the prophet of the Spirit. Animated and energized by the infusion of God's Holy Spirit, he serves as a model to all who would stand in the Lord's presence and all who would enter his service.
  4. Inspired by the message of God. The personalities of God's agents color the manner in which the calling is fulfilled, as it certainly was with Ezekiel. But the prophet is primarily accountable to God and the divine word. Merely hearing the message is obviously not enough, It must be digested, internalized, incorporated, embodied and lived. The medium becomes the message. The message derives not from private reasoning or logic, or from mystical reflection, but from revelation. Even so, prophetic "inspiration" does not cancel out or overwhelm natural abilities and qualities -- it uplifts and quickens them.
  5. Divine equipping commensurate with the calling. God is aware of the challenges his servants face. When he assigns a task, he assumes responsibility for preparing them for that work. God's call to service is not made on the basis of gifts but vice versa; gifts are given on the basis of the assignment.
  6. The calling is not to success but to faithfulness. Every aspect of vocational service remains under the sovereign control of God, especially the results. Apparent effectiveness is no proof of calling, nor even a sure criterion by which to measure faithfulness. The servant messenger embarks on his or her mission as an emissary of the divine King. That privilege alone should provide sufficient motivation for unconditional service.

8/29/2017

The Most Awesome Visible Manifestation of God (Ezekiel 1)


The first part of Ezekiel addresses the people of Judah facing a crisis--the collapse of the nation--from 598-586 B.C. between the first and second Babylonian exiles. Ezekiel's messages was received and delivered within a span of 6-7 years (Ez 1:1, 2-3; 3:16; 8:1; 20:1; 24:1), the period immediately preceding the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar until the curtain falls with a final shocking announcement of its inevitability. Glimpses of hope are few, being scattered about like precious pearls in a turbulent sea of divine fury (Ez 6:8-10; 11:14-21; 16:60-63; 17:22-24; 20:40-44). To drive his point home, Ezekiel delivered his messages by means of direct announcements of judgment, colorful allegorical word pictures, dramatic and often shocking symbolic actions, disputations with his hearers, and divinely controlled personal tragedy.

Ezekiel's mission of gloom and doom opens on a brilliant note with his call to prepare him for his mission and ministry as a prophet (1:1-3:27):
  1. The superscription (1:1-3).
  2. The inaugural vision (1:4-28).
  3. The commissioning of Ezekiel (2:1-3:11).
  4. The preparation of Ezekiel (3:12-15).
  5. Yahweh's induction speech (3:16-21).
  6. The initiation of Ezekiel (3:22-27).
With respect to force and awesomeness, no theophany (visible manifestation of God) in the entire OT matches Ezekiel's inaugural vision. It was a multisensual and polychromatic spectacle, an unforgettable and very impressive sensory experience with profound theological significance:
  1. Transcendence. The vision proclaims/reveals the transcendent glory of God. Everything in this vision proclaims God's glory: the dazzling brilliance of the entire image, the gleam of the creatures' bronze legs, the jewels on the wheels, the crystalline platform, the lapis lazuli throne, the amberous (fine translucence) and fiery form of the "man." Everything about the vision cries "Glory!" (Ps 29:9), even the prophet's frunstrating search for adequate forms of expression. Unlike man-made gods, the glory of God defies human description, verbally and visually. Also, man made gods need to be taken care of, but God's glory radiates from his very being.
  2. Holiness. The vision proclaims the transcendent holiness of God (Isa 6:3). The creatures cover their body with their send pair of wings (Eze 2:11). God sits on his throne separate from all his creatures, with no confusion about how they are distinctly separate.
  3. Sovereignty. The vision proclaims the sovereignty of God. God is enthroned, the King over all (1 Cor 15:28)! The universality of his reign is reflected in the prominence of the number four (four winds), and especially the absolute freedom with which his heavenly chariot moves, and his invasion of Babylon, the heartland of the god of Babylon Marduk's realm, to appear to Ezekiel. God has served notice that regardless of the fate of Jerusalem (she will be soon destroyed), he remains in full control.
  4. Affinity. The vision proclaims God's love, interest and affinity toward his people. His condescending appearance in human form undoubtedly finds its basis in Genesis 1:26-27 in a remarkable role reversal where God appears in the likeness of humankind. But what Ezekiel sees is not an actual representation but a reflection of deity. Thus, there are no idolatrous notions unlike pagan idolatry. Here the glory of God cannot be reduced to human definition. Everything about the vision is in the superlative mode. God is alone above the platform, removed from all creatures and stunning in his radiance. There is none other beside him. But this does not prevent him from communicating with mortals. 
  5. Immanence. The vision proclaims the immanence and presence of God among the exiles. God is with his people in Babylonian exile far from their native land. God is with them,  regardless of their place of residence. 
  6. Judgment. The vision hints at the impending judgment of God. Several features of the vision have an ominous ring. For the moment this vision reassures Ezekiel of God's presence. But in 13 months the heavenly chariot would transport God's glory out of the temple and out of Jerusalem, thus removing the last hindrance to Nebuchadnezzar razing and destroying the city and the temple. The burning coals (Eze 1:13) in a later vision will show a man taking these coals and spreading them over Jerusalem (Eze 10:2).
  7. Clarity. This vision serves notice that whoever would enter into divine service must have a clear vision of the one into whose service he or she is called. This service is a vocation like no other. It requires conscription (voluntary enlistment) into the service of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the one who who sits on his glorious throne, unrivaled in majesty and power. God's kingdom will be built, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and his servants go forth on his behalf.
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.

8/26/2017

The Call to Ministry


OT accounts of individuals' calls to divine service has been cast in two forms:
  1. the protested call and 
  2. the overwhelming call [Moses (Exod 3:1-4:17); Gideon (Judg 6:11-24); Jeremiah (Jer 1:4-10)].
Ezekiel's call is generally classified among the latter with the following typical features:
  1. The person called receives a vision of Yahweh in all his splendor and majesty.
  2. The person demonstrates verbally or non-verbally an overwhelmed response to the vision.
  3. The person is reassured, prepared and equipped by Yahweh to fulfill his or her prophetic responsibilities.
  4. The person receives a special commission from Yahweh [Isaiah (Isa 6:1-13); Micaiah ben Imlah (1 Ki 22:19-21); Paul (Ac 9:3-39; 22:3-21; 26:12-18)].
Yet several features suggests that Ezekiel was not a willing prophet, at least in the beginning:
  • the extra-ordinary length and detail of the account (exceeding the call of Moses by almost 50%), 
  • the intensity of the opening vision, 
  • the duplication of the commissioning speech, 
  • the prescribed physical ingestion of the scroll, 
  • the stern watchman charge, and 
  • the threefold binding combine, which all combine to soften Ezekiel's resistance and prepare him for the role into which he is conscripted by the sovereign Lord.
Several additional general observations of the OT call narratives are:
  1. The prophetic call was not an ecstatic or trance-like experience. The divine confrontation occurred when the person was engaged in the normal activities of life
  2. The accounts are punctuated and controlled by dialogue between Yahweh and his prophet. The commissioning of a prophet was a very personal experience and issued in direct imperatival form.
  3. The call of the prophet was a private affair initiated by Yahweh alone and without third-party involvement. The call seems at times to have been quite arbitrary, irrespective of personal faith (Gideon), interest in the divine agenda (Moses), or personal gifts (Jeremiah).
  4. The function of the prophet was mediatorial. The call was not for the prophet's own sake, but that a divine message might be communicated to a third party, usually the nation of Israel, and also to foreigners.
  5. When the prophets went forth they went with a divine message and with divine authority. Yahweh, the great divine king, conscripts into his service human ambassadors, messengers carrying his proclamations to their intended audiences.
Reference: 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, 78-79.

8/25/2017

Encountering God's Glorious Presence (Ezekiel 1)

"Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance (brilliant light) around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. [This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me.] When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking" (Ezekiel 1:28).

"Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance (brilliant light) around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. [This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me.] When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking" (Ezekiel 1:28).

  1. The Context (1-3).
  2. The Wind (4).
  3. The Creatures (5-14).
  4. The Wheels (15-21).
  5. The Throne (22-28).

Encounter God's Glorious Presence (Ezekiel 1); The Vision of the Glory of God


Ezekiel was carried off to Babylon at the age 25—one of 10,000 captives (597 BC). In the fifth year of his captivity (593 BC) God called the young priest to prophesy to "a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me…(who) are obstinate and stubborn" (Ez 2:3-4). For > 25 years Ezekiel faithfully carried Jehovah's message of judgment for rebellion and the restoration of a holy remnant, to a captive nation in a distant and foreign land.

Outline:

1.      Ezekiel's Commission (1-3).

2.      The Disobedience of Judah and Her Predicted Judgment (4-24). Warnings about the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

3.      The Sins of the Nations and Their Resulting Judgment (25-33).

4.      The Faithfulness of God and Judah's Future Blessings (34-48).

The Prophet's Call (1-3): 1. Seeing God's glory (ch.1) 2. Hearing God's word (ch.2) 3. Becoming God's watchman (ch.3) [The Call of Ezekiel to the Prophetic Ministry]

The Context (1:1-3)

1.       Who was Ezekiel (1:3; 2 Ki 24:12–16)? When did he begin to prophesy? Where was he when called (1:1,2)?

 

2.       What does the expression "the hand of the Lord was upon him" mean (1:3; 1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 3:15, 16; cf. Ezekiel 3:14, 22; 8:1; 33:22; 37:1; 40:1)? Of what and whom does Ezekiel see a vision?

 

Ezekiel's Inaugural Vision of God's Glory (1:4-28); Preamble (1:4)

3.       What did Ezekiel first see (1:4)? From what direction did it come? What might this signify (Jer 1:14; 6:1; 10:22; 46:20; 47:2; 50:3)? With what are clouds and lightening often associated (Dt 4:11; Ps 104:3; 144:6; Mt 24:30; Lk 10:18)?

 

The Four Living Creatures (1:5-14)

4.       What are the four "living creatures"? Describe them. What might their "four faces" signify (1:5–14)?

 

The Wheels (1:15-21)

5.       What was beside each of the four living creatures? How many of these were there associated with each creature?  Describe them (1:15–21).

 

The Throne (1:22-28)

6.       What was upon the heads of the four living creatures? What could be heard from there and when (1:22–25)? What was above the crystal firmament? Describe the One seated there (1:26–28)?

 

Ø  What do you think this vision is intended to represent to Ezekiel?

 

Ezekiel's whole ministry was virtually framed by the awful sight of this glory of Yahweh. The word "glory" (kabowd) has to do with "weight" or "substance." It portrays the sense of God's majestic reality, the overwhelming power of his presence, the "weight" of his eternal Being. Consider the implications of this vision:

1.      This vision proclaims the transcendent glory of God. Everything in this vision cries "Glory!"

2.      This vision proclaims the transcendent holiness of Yahweh (Isa 6:3). He sits alone on his throne.

3.      This vision proclaims the universal sovereignty of Yahweh. He is enthroned as King over all.

4.      This vision proclaims God's interest in his people. His condescending appearance in human form.

5.      This vision proclaims the presence of Yahweh among the exiles. It expresses vividly that Yahweh is here.

6.      This vision hints at the impending judgment of Yahweh.

8/23/2017

Ezekiel


The book of Ezekiel relates to one of the most critical periods in the history of Israel. It is one of the most interesting and compelling books of the Hebrew Bible, and it is simultaneously one of the Bible's most difficult and perplexing books. It presents the visions and oracles of Ezekiel ben (son of) Buzi, which span a period of 22 years from 593 to 571 BC. [cf. Isaiah 740-700; Jeremiah 626-587; Daniel 604-535.]

Ezekiel was a Judean priest and prophet exiled to Babylon in 597 BC together with King Jehoiachin ben Jehoiakim of Judah as part of the first exile by King Nebchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Ki 24:8-17; 2 Chr 36:9-10). This first exile took place some 10 years prior to 587/586 BC, when Nebchadnezzar invaded Judah a seond time to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon and to exile a major portion of the surviving Jerusalemite/Judean population to Babylon.

Ezekiel was a priest of the line of Zadok who was trained to serve at the altar of the Jerusalem Temple during the last 10 years of the Judean monarchy. But he was taken into captivity and was settled at a city called Tel Aviv, which in Hebrew means "hill of spring." When Ezekiel reached his 30th birthday (Ez 1:1), the age at chich he would have begun service in the Jerusalem Temple had he not been exiled to a foreqgn land, he saw visions of God, which marked the beginning of his new career as a visionary prophet of Yahweh.

Ezekiel wrote his messages to the exiles in Babylon in essentially a chronological order. He, as a watchman, warned Judah that her disobedience to the Mosaic covenant would bring its cursing upon her in the form of judgment upon the land and upon Jerusalem. Ezekiel employed every means to communicate his message: speaking, acting, visions, symbols, allegories, parables. But Judah had gone too far. Yahweh's glory was removed from the Temple and from Judah in preparation for the coming judgment. Systematically Ezekiel removed all their arguments against such a judgment. Then Jerusalem fell. Quickly judgment was also announced on the nations around Judah who cheered at her collapse and sought to plunder her.

The final portion of the book brought hope. Just prior to the news of Jerusalem's fall by the exiles in Babylon, Ezekiel received and proclaimed 6 night messages of blessing on Judah through cleansing and restoration to the land of Israel in the future. With the return of Israel to her land, Yahweh's glory would return to the new Temple constructed as His dwelling place among them.

The book of Ezekiel thus portrays the purging of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the people, to reconstitute them as part of a new creation at the conclusion of the book. With Jerusalem, the Temple, and the people so purged, Yahweh stands once again in the holy center of the created world. Ezekiel then points to the return of Yahweh to the holy temple at the center of a reconstituted Israel and creation at large. It ultimately represents a profound attempt to encounter the holy in the profane world, and based on that encounter, to sanctify the world in which we live. By him Judah was to know of the future restoration of all Israel to the Promised Land by the Messiah.

Ezekial is mostly a mystery to modern readers. Few can handle his relentless denunciations, his unconventional antics, his repetitive style and his bewildering array of topics. He is like a stranger from a distant time and land.
  • Who is this priest who, on his 30th birthday, has a dazzling vision of God on a wheeled throne?
  • Who is this odd prophet who engages in outlandish street theater and speaks for God on international affairs?
  • Who is this seer who paints murals of apocalyptic doom and then of a restored temple bursting with emblems of paradise?
Ezekiel means "whom God strengthens." The prayer of his parent when he was born is "May God strengthen him." He was born in 622 BC [based on the assumption that when he was 30 (1:1-2), it was the 5th hear of King Jehoiachin - 593-592 BC]. It was the year the book of the law was discovered in the temple, which spurred King Josiah's reforms (2 Kings 22; 2 Chr 34:3-7). He had been king for 18 years since 640 BC.

Ezekiel's visions include:
  • a vision of Yahweh's throne chariot in Ezekiel 1, which appears to him while he stands on the banks of the Kebar River (1:1).
  • a vision of Yahweh's decision to destroy the city of Jerusalem and to kill or exile its population (Ezekiel 8-11).
  • a vision of the new temple which portends not only a new temple structure in Jerusalem, but a renewed and reconstituted Twelve Tribes of Israel and even creation at large (Ezekiel 40-48).
Ezekiel's visions are characterized by bizarre imagery and concepts, such as:
  • the vision of the four cherubim who bear Yahweh's throne chariot through the heavens, each of whom has a body of burnished bronze, the feet of cattle, three sets of wings, and four faces, which represent four aspects of the divine character.
  • the vision of the restoration of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, which plays a major role in defining expectations concerning resurrection in both Judaism and Christianity.
  • the vision of the restored temple in Ezekiel 40-48, which differs markedly from what is known of the First Temple, built by King Solomon ben David, and the Second Temple, built at the beginning of the Persian period.
His actions are also frequently bizarre:
  • He cuts off his hair, divides it into 3 portions, and chops, burns, and scatters it to illustrate the fate of the people of Judah (Exeziel 5).
  • He refuses to mourn for his dead wife to emulate Yahweh's response to Jerusalem's demise (Ezekiel 24).
  • He serves as watchman to warn his people concerning the approach of danger, including danger due to their own alleged wrongdoing (Ezekiel 3 and 33).
Key verses are Ezekiel 36:24-27, 36:33-35.

"For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanseyou from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws" (Ez 36:24-27).

"This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. 34 The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it.35 They will say, "This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited" (Ez 36:33-35).

The key chapter is Ezekiel 37: Restoration & Resurrection of Redeemed Israel.