Ezekiel

(317) November 13: Ezekial 1-3 & Hebrews 9

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note what exactly God calls Ezekial to do.

To ponder:
Ezekial is amongst the exiles, south-East of Babylon by a tributary of the river Euphrates. We don’t know what the “thirteenth year” referred to, but are told this was the fifth year of King Jerhoiachin’s exile (see 2 Kgs 24). And God’s word comes to Ezekial in the form of a vision of God in heaven (1v1-3).
            Chapter 1 describes how him seeing a massive windy stormcloud coming from the north. It is surrounded by light with lighting flashing throughout it. These are motifs for God’s presence in judgement and purity. In the centre are four fiery creatures with human bodies, but four faces, four wings in addition to their hands, and four feet like a calf’s, which gleam like bronze. The four faces are of the most supreme creatures from amongst humanity, wild beasts, livestock, and birds. This reflects the fact that all creation is to serve God as its king. Beneath each creature is a wheel on the ground, so that all four creatures could move together in any of the four directions the creatures faced, or up and down. This might be why they are pictured with calves feet (for nimbleness) and wings. We’re told the wheels move because the spirit of the creatures is in them, so when the creatures move they do too. These creatures are therefore perfectly aligned with the will of God as to where they should go.
            The “eyes” on the wheels may denote God’s omniscience, or just refer to precious stones. The wheels are certainly portrayed as ornate and awesome, reflecting the majesty of God. This fits the fact that above the creatures is a sort of ice-like platform, above which was a sapphire throne, and high above that, a figure like that of a man. It seems from the waist down he was just fire, but from the waist up had a body that glowed as if full of fire, with a light surrounding him like a rainbow – the sign of his continued favour towards all creation (as Gen 9). We’re explicitly told Ezekial is seeing an “appearance” of God’s glory or excellence (1v28). And again, this imagery implies his purity and judgement in particular, with his sheer height, separated from the world by the ice-sheet, reflecting how superior and set-apart or holy he is, in comparison with the creation (see Is 6). It seems then, that the creatures and their wheels are like a sort of chariot that carries the LORD around the creation. We’re told that when moving, the creatures stretch their wings to one-another, and their sound is like that of rushing water, the voice of the Almighty and the tumult of an army. Significantly, the first and last of these are images of judgement, implying the word God speaks as he comes (as 1v25) might be one of judgement too. 
            All this makes draws the attention to God speaking to Ezekial in chapter 2, emphasizing just how awesome this is and how reverently his words should be heard – by us as by his orginal hearers. Calling Ezekial “son of man” stresses his mortality and distinctiveness from God. He is ordered to stand to be spoken to, and the Spirit raises him to his feet (2v1-2). In some sense this pictures the great need of Israel and all humanity - for God to speak and resurrect them from our spiritual death (see chapter 37). God tells Ezekial he is sending him to the Israelites as a generationally rebellious nation, forewarning him how obstinate they are, and telling him he must tell them what the LORD says whether they listen or not. He also tells Ezekial not to fear them, although danger may surround him, and not to rebel like them (2v3-8a). These are words every Christian needs to hear, and every preacher in particular.
            At this point God tells Ezekial to eat a scroll containing words of lament, mourning and woe, and then speak to Israel. These things will therefore form the content of his preaching. But the fact that the scroll is sweet-tasting reminds us that God’s word is good, and is pleasant to those who accept it (2v8-3v3). Nevertheless, he stresses that although there will be no language barrier between Ezekial and the people, and although even those of a differently language would have listened if he communicated to them, Israel will not because they are unwilling to (3v4-7). Likewise, people may say they are rejecting God’s word today because they are confused about it, but often it is simply that they don’t want it. Nevertheless, God says he will make Ezekial’s forehead like stone, implying that he will strengthen him to keep speaking and not be swayed (3v8-9).
            Having been commissioned to speak to the exiles, the Spirit then lifted him up and took him away. It’s not clear whether the description of the sound of the living creatures’ wings implies they transported him or that before he was taken away he heard God’s chariot depart, implying that his vision was complete. It may be that what Ezekial is describing is simply that he was compelled by the Spirit to get up and head off to the exiles at Tel Abib near the same river he was already by (3v10-15). His bitterness, anger of spirit with “the strong hand of the LORD upon me” probably describes him feeling God’s own anger at the sin of the exiles, and God compelling him to speak to it.
            At this new location, it seems Ezekial was overwhealmed, whether at his calling or the people’s sin. He is then told that he has been made a watchman – a sentry who would sound the alarm to a city. His role is therefore to warn. And he is told that if God declares a wicked man will die or puts a stumbling block before someone who has turned from righteousness so that they might die, yet Ezekial doesn’t warn and seek to dissuade the person from their sin, then he too will be accountable, implying he will also die, rather than be saved. By contrast, if the person is warned and stops sinning, he will live, and Ezekial will be saved (3v16-21). It’s a stark reminder of what is at stake for those who preach the gospel.
            Again, under God’s strong compelling, God sent him to a plain where he saw a vision of God as he had before. Once again too, the Spirit raised him to his feet. If Ezekial had been resenting the role he had been given, this could be understood as a second commissioning. Perhaps as an acted parable of what he is about to be told, he is commanded to shut himself up at home. God then told him he would at some point be bound by the people so he could not prophesy amongst them. Moreover, God would make him unable to rebuke them for their sin, except for when God speaks to him. Then he is to say whatever the LORD says, and whoever will listen will listen (3v22-27).
           
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for preachers and Christians who have been bold enough to warn you about sin and its consequences. Pray that they would continue to do so, despite the pressure not to.

Thinking further:
To read an introduction to Ezekial from the NIV Study Bible, click here.

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(318) November 14: Ezekial 4-6 & Hebrews 10:1-23

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note why God says he is bringing judgement on Jerusalem.

To ponder:
God instructs Ezekial to draw Jerusalem and act out a siege against it as a sign to Israel. The iron wall between the prophet and the city, with the ramps and siege works in place most likely signifies the strength of God’s hostility as he turns his face to Jerusalem (4v1-3). We should remember that although Ezekial is in exile, the siege of Jerusalem during king Zedekiah’s reign was yet to happen (see 2 Kgs 25). Next, Ezekial is to lie on his side to bear the sin of Israel and Judah respectively. The numbers are much debated. The 390 days probably refers to the years of rebellion of both the north and south since the days of Solomon, with the 40 days referring to the extra years Judah rebelled on her own after the northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria (4v4-6). The point is that the coming destruction of Jerusalem was a long time in coming, and a fitting punishment for such persistent sin. Indeed, God himself says he will tie Ezekial with ropes until he has finished lying on each side, signifying that the siege of Jerusalem will not end until the people’s sin is fully paid for (4v7-8). Likewise, the experience of unbelievers at the final judgement will be in proportion to their sin.
            The call of Ezekial to prophesy with “bared arm” is a military gesture demonstrating that God is fighting against his own people (4v7-8). The meagre rations the prophet must live on demonstrate the scarcity of food during the siege, and the use of human excrement (considered ritually unclean) for fuel, speaks of the defiled food that would then be eaten in exile, and so the loss of the ritual cleanliness which was necessary to be a worshipper of God (4v9-16). The point is that the people will then be just like the nations. In kindness, however, God changes his stipulations for Ezekial because of his concern at being defiled. Here the prophet’s anxiety contrasts the flippancy of the Jews with regard to true worship.
            In what follows, Ezekial has to shave and divide up his hair into three and deal with each in a way that signified those dying in the city by plague or famine, by the sword outside, and those scattered to the nations (5v1-2, 12). From the latter hairs, Ezekial is to tuck some away implying that a remnant of the exiles will be kept safe. But by then burning a few of these, he shows that God’s anger against Jerusalem would spread to those amongst the exiles and remnant too – referring, perhaps, to the final judgement of any who do not truly love God (5v3-4). At this point God declares through Ezekial that Jerusalem had actually rebelled in her idolatry more than the countries around her, which is why God will inflict a punishment on her, the like of which will never again be seen, in which the people will resort to cannibalism, and God will withdraw his favour without pity (5v5-12). After this, he says his anger will cease and the people will know that he himself had spoken through Ezekial, and with zeal, ie. passionate anger at Israel’s sin (5v13). The city will then be a ruin, rebuke and warning amongst the onlooking nations, presumably of the consequences of sin (5v14-17). In speaking to the exiles, Ezekial is no doubt implying that they too should learn from what they will soon hear has taken place. This is no doubt why the awfulness of what occurred must be considered and preached today.
            In chapter 6 Ezekial is to prophesy against the land of Israel, declaring how God is going to bring the sword, destroying the places of idolatry and slaying the people infront of their idols. The scattering of their bones around the altars implies they are desecrated. And this is all so that, when recalling the words of the prophets, the people will know that God is the LORD – and, by consequence, their idols are false (6v1-7). God goes on to speak of how some will escape death by being taken into exile, where they will remember him, loathe themselves for their evil and idolatry, and recognize that he is the LORD and didn’t threaten the calamity in vain (6v8-10). Again, this urges those already in exile to the same. Indeed, it is the result meditation on these things should bring today, with an awareness of how certain judgement is when God predicts it.
            At this point the LORD instructs Ezekial to highlight the awfulness of what is coming by clapping, stamping and crying out “Alas” because of Israel’s sin and the destruction it has provoked. He then declares his wrath will reach all – those “far away” and already in exile, those “near” and so living around Jerusalem, and those who “survive” the destruction of the Judean towns around the city only to die of famine in the siege (6v11-12). The point is that all who have sinned will we punished, until God’s wrath is spent. He reiterates what this will mean in the land, making it a desolate waste, and again asserts that this is so that the people will know he is the LORD (6v13-14). Alongside all the evidence surrounding Christ, the fulfilment of all the prophets’ predictions in the exile, as recorded for us in scripture, is yet another proof to us that the God of Israel is the one true God.
           
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his concern that people are not left in their denial of him. Pray that your faith that the LORD is the true God would be strengthened as you read Ezekial.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(319) November 15: Ezekiel 7-9 & Hebrews 10:24-39

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note what has so provoked God.

To ponder:
God’s word now comes to Ezekiel, declaring the end of the land under God’s anger, and his judgement without pity at the practices conducted there – again, so that the people will know he is the LORD (7v1-9). Here God pictures a rod, which would be used for punishing children, budding with arrogance and violence. This may refer to how these sins have led to the punishment, or how God will use the arrogance and violence of Babylon against the people. God’s promise is that the time for punishment has arrived, no people or wealth will be left, and those who have sold land will not be able to recover it as they will die. And so even though the people may prepare for battle, it is pointless as they will not be able to fight (7v10-14).
            Once more we see the division between famine and plague in Jerusalem, and the sword outside it. What is added is a description of those escaping to the mountains moaning in terror at what their sins have brought on them, and acting as those who are in mourning. Their silver and gold is described as unclean because they used it to make idols and images. But they are told that on the day of God’s wrath they will discard it as useless as it won’t be able to save them. Rather, the foreigners attacking them will take it as loot and defile it, and most serious of all, they will desecrate God’s treasured place – the temple (7v15-22).
            What we are seeing, is just how utterly God’s judgement destroys all the false securities of this world. Only his word, and our relationship with him that is based on it, endures forever.
            At this point Ezekiel is told to prepare chains as a symbol of the people being taken into exile. Because of the violence in the land and in Jerusalem, God says he will bring the most wicked nation against Israel, taking their houses, humbling the mighty, and desecrating their sanctuaries – presumably their places of false worship. The people are told that they will seek peace but will receive only calamity and rumour – perhaps rumours of more to come that will leave them constantly unsettled. They will be without God’s word or wisdom by prophet, priest or elder, and so without guidance or hope. So the king, prince and people will despair and tremble, as God judges them by their conduct. And only then, on experiencing God’s wrath at their sin in fulfilment of his word, will they know he is the LORD (7v23-27). We should note here, that a lack of those who teach God’s word in the church today implies it is a church under judgement.
            Chapter 8 begins a new section. By noting the date of what follows, Ezekiel stresses its importance. Whilst sitting in his house with some elders God’s hand came upon him and he was transported in a vision to the temple in Jerusalem. He describes a figure matching the one in the earlier chariot. This is God himself, which is why he is careful to say the figure had an “appearance” of a man and “what looked like” a hand, for God is spirit and only embodied in the Lord Jesus. Ezekiel records God lifting him by the hair and the Spirit lifting him between heaven and earth – probably meaning that he was up high in the air. He is taken to the temple gate the king would pass through, where God tells him to look north and see an idol that had been set up (8v1-4). It is “of jealousy” presumably because it provoked righteous jealousy in God for inhabiting his temple and drawing the affections of his people. There is a sense in which all idols can therefore take this title. God asks Ezekiel if he sees the detestable things being done here, no doubt in worship of this idol, and explains it is this that will send him far from his sanctuary. He then gets Ezekiel to dig through a wall where he sees what seems to be a secret doorway to a room. There 70 elders and a prominent leader offer incense in front of idols and carvings of detestable animals, which may have been the snake-gods of surrounding pagan cultures (8v5-11). God notes that these people each have their own idol and assume the LORD doesn’t see and has forsaken the land. Returning Ezekiel to the north gate, he then points out women engaging in the cultic practice of mourning Tammuz, a Sumerian god. The note with each scene that Ezekiel will see even more detestable things, highlights just how bad Israel’s idolatry was. And so, Ezekiel is finally brought to the inner court where he sees 25 men with their backs to the temple, the place of God’s presence, bowing to the east in worship of the sun (8v12-16).
            Even in the church of today, the gods of other religions are worshipped and prayed to in so called multi-faith services. Although it is considered intolerance in our pluralistic culture, we should note that this too is detestable to the Lord.
            In the light of all this, God asks Ezekiel if it is trivial that Judah are doing these things, adding that they also fill the land with violence. It is for these reasons, he says he will act in anger towards then, not showing pity even if they shout in his ears (8v17-18). The meaning of “putting a branch to their nose” is uncertain. Perhaps it refers to them bringing harm upon themselves. Whatever the case, we are being shown that the terrible destruction of Jerusalem that we have read of, was a just punishment for the most appalling idolatry and evil.
            At this point God calls 6 guards to come from the north with deadly weapons. With them is a man in linen, the priestly garment. God’s glory then moves from above the cherubim (as in chapter 1) to the threshold of the temple. The sense is that he is about to leave as he tells the man to put a mark on the foreheads of all in the city who grieve over the idolatry, calling the guards to kill everyone else without pity, starting with the elders in the sanctuary, and fill the temple courts with the slain, so defiling it. This idea applies to the final judgement too (see Rev 7v3, 1 Pet 4v17). In response Ezekiel cries out, asking God whether he is going to kill all those remaining from the once significant Israel, and the LORD replies that he will not show pity because of how great the people’s sin is (9v1-11).

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he is a jealous God, loving his people that intently. Pray that the church in the west would be clear in its rejection of other religions and gods.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(320) November 16: Ezekiel 10-12 & Hebrews 11:1-19

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider the significance of God’s glory leaving the temple.

To ponder:
From his chariot-throne God now tells the man in linen to take coals from amongst its wheels and scatter them over the city (10v1-2). If the coals represent coals used in burnt offerings, they stress the penalty of sin being paid in judgement. What follows is the presence and glory of God moving from the south of the temple to its threshold, whilst filling the inner court with a sort of radiant cloud (as chapter 1). The note that the wings of the cherubim could be heard at the outer court implies the LORD moving away (10v3-5). Again, God tells the man to take the fire (presumably the coals), and one of the cherubim gives it to him with what looks like a man’s hand (10v6-8). This detail might be to highlight the role of angels in judgement.
            10v9-17 repeat the description of the cherubim and chariot from chapter 1. The substitution of a face of a cherub for the initial face of an ox, may therefore a scribal error in copying. The mention of the cherubim and wheels being covered in eyes probably stresses the fact that God moves and acts according to what he sees throughout the earth. The repeat of the description emphasizes what follows: God’s glory departed from the threshold and sort of alighted upon the chariot-throne. The chariot was then carried by the cherubim to the east gate (10v18-21), ready to continue east to a mountain (see 11v23). The sense is that having dispensed judgement, God is going to leave. One might consider here how Jesus walks amongst his lampstands (churches) in Revelation, but threatens to remove those who don’t repent of their sin (Rev 2v5).
            After this, the Spirit took Ezekiel to the temple gate that faces East, where he sees 25 men including some prominent leaders (11v1-2) who God says are plotting evil and giving wicked advice. 10v3 suggests this advice was to urge the people to fight the Babylonians in contradiction of his word through Jeremiah to surrender. The footnote shows the uncertainties with the verse. The reference to “meat” probably implies the men saw themselves as the best part of the inhabitants of the city, who could be protected from the fires of war as the meat is by the cauldron. Advice that seems sensible is wicked if it contravenes God’s word.
            God calls Ezekiel to prophesy against these people, declaring that the good meat is actually the people these leaders have killed within the city. So for breaching his laws and conforming to the standards of the nations, God is going to drive them out to face the sword at the borders of Israel, where they will then know he is the LORD (11v4-12). As this is all a vision, and Ezekiel is still in Babylon, this prophesying was not heard by the people, but significant in explaining the destruction of Jerusalem to the exiles and later readers.
            As he prophesied, one of the leaders died and Ezekiel again cried out over whether God would destroy all that remained of Israel. God replied that the people of Jerusalem say that Ezekiel’s family and the others with him in exile are far from the LORD, and so by implication, rejected, whereas God has given the land to those in Jerusalem. Yet Ezekiel is to declare that God has actually been a sanctuary to those in these foreign countries – implying that they are not rejected. The LORD adds that it is these people who will be given back the land as he will bring them back to it. So he will not destroy everyone. Indeed, these Israelites will remove all the land’s idolatrous items. By his Spirit, God will then give them a heart that is singly devoted to him, rather than being hardened against him. And they will therefore keep his covenant by obeying his laws, so that they will be God’s people and he will be their God. By contrast, those who are devoted to their images and idols will suffer for what they’ve done (11v13-21). This obviously compacts the return from exile with the work of Christ, looking to the new covenant work of the Spirit (see Heb 8). We should be thankful that in him we are kept from falling into such sin. But the event also reminds us that church leaders may pronounce self-righteously that they are the ones who have God’s favour, perhaps because they are part of establishment Christianity. But this is simply untrue if they are not obeying the Lord. Rather, his favour is with those who seek to do his will.
             With this clarified, God’s glory finally leaves Jerusalem and stops over the mountain in the east, which is on route to Babylon. The Spirit then returned Ezekiel in his vision to the exiles, to whom he told everything. The removal of God’s glory from the city is hugely significant, demonstrating how utterly he had rejected the people. It also reassures the exiles that God’s presence is mobile, and so he is still with them, as long as they look to him. This is the key purpose to the whole vision, which began in 8v1.
            In chapter 12 Ezekiel is told that in exile he is nevertheless living amongst a rebellious people who do not see or hear what God is speaking about. So the prophet is to act it out. In the daytime, whilst seen, he is to bring out his belongings packed for exile, and then in the evening leave through a hole he digs in the wall, covering his face so he cannot see the land. After doing it, the LORD asked him whether the rebellious Israelites asked what he was doing, telling him to explain it is a sign of what will happen to the prince of Jerusalem and the whole house of Israel who are still in Judah. He adds that the prince will be brought to Babylonia but die before seeing it, whilst his staff and troops will be scattered throughout the nations, pursued by the LORD. God says they will then know he is the LORD, and he will spare some so that amongst the nations they will acknowledge him and the detestable things they have done. Next, he told Ezekiel to tremble as he ate and drank as a picture of the anxiety that will accompany meals in Jerusalem when the land is stripped bare. Here he corrects two sayings: Of one that states prophetic visions are not fulfilled, he says his words will be fulfilled – implying his words of judgement will come to pass. And with respect to another that says Ezekiel’s vision is of the distant future, God says it will not be delayed any longer (12v1-28). We should remember that because some of what is to be fulfilled in Christ has not yet occurred, this doesn’t mean it will not. God acts according to his perfect timing (2 Pet 3v1-9).

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he is with those who love him wherever they are and whatever they face. Pray that those suffering hardship would be comforted by this.

Thinking further:
None today.

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(321) November 17: Ezekiel 13-15 & Hebrews 11:20-40

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note the traits in those who are false prophets.

To ponder:
Ezekiel is now to speak against false prophets that are in exile with him. They are those who prophesy from their own imagination and spirit, rather than God’s Spirit. So Ezekiel is to condemn them as foolish, and like jackals among ruins – ie. seeking prey to devour, when they should be metaphorically repairing the breaks in the walls – ie. strengthening crumbling faith so the people will stand firm. God is adamant that despite the fact they actually expect their words to be fulfilled, he has not sent them and they have seen nothing from him, so their visions and divinations (future-telling) are false (13v1-7). It’s a stark reminder of how easily people can assume what they feel in their spirit is from God’s Spirit, and actually be convinced it is a word from God – whether expressed as a prophecy or sermon. A key question to ask those who claim to have a message from God is therefore what makes them think it is genuinely from him. With prophecy, one would at least expect an undeniable clarity and potency of vision; with a sermon, that it is true to scripture.
            Because of these false visions, God declares he is against these prophets, stating they will no longer be included in the inner circle of Israel, nor have the rights of those listed as true Israelites, nor return to the land when the time comes. As previously, he says that the fulfilment of this word will show them that he is the Sovereign Lord (13v8-9). The way the LORD says these prophets lead the people astray is in declaring “peace” where there is none. So they erect a flimsy wall of false hope that they whitewash – covering over the harsh realities of Israel’s situation. 13v16 implies they were sending messages to Jerusalem, no doubt proclaiming it would not fall. To this, God declares he will unleash his anger in such a way that their wall of false hope will fall and the prophets be destroyed, yet knowing he is the LORD (13v10-16). In our day such false assurance comes from those within the church who trivialise sin and scoff at the idea of judgement or the wrath of God.
            Ezekiel is also to prophesy against the prophetesses who ensnare people to their lies through feigned magic, just so they can receive a little more food. It’s a fitting description of how fortune tellers and the like still ensnare. It seems these women killed those who shouldn’t have died in the sense that they encouraged the wicked not to turn from their ways, so that they would die when they would otherwise have lived. Sparing those who should not live may therefore refer to them declaring that the wicked deserved life, even though they didn’t. Whatever the case, they disheartened the righteous in this by giving no encouragement to them for their uprightness. God declares he is against these women, will free the people from them, and cause them no longer to carry on their practices. Then they too will know the LORD (13v17-23). It is unclear whether these false prophets actually saw false visions. In the wider context it seems more likely this is just a way of describing them speaking the impressions of their own imaginations and spirits.
            When some elders came to enquire of God through Ezekiel, God’s word then came telling him they were worshipping idols (the stumbling block before their faces) that would lead them into sin. God implies they should not be allowed to enquire of him and declares he will answer them in keeping with their idolatry in order to recapture their hearts. This is God’s intent in rebuking us for our sin. And so he calls them to repent, stating he will not answer them whilst they commit idolatry, but cut them off (ie. cause their death) – saying the people will then know he is the LORD. He adds that if the prophet the idolater enquires of does respond, this will be because God has enticed them, no doubt to bring ruin to the enquirer. But as the prophet is speaking his own ideas rather than a message God had actually given, he will be counted guilty and destroyed. God promises that through all this the people will cease their straying and so be his people with him as their God (14v1-11). The point is that the people will be refined as some repent and those who don’t are destroyed.
            In what follows God states that when he acts in judgement against a sinful country with famine, wild beasts, sword and plague, even the most righteous, like Noah, Daniel or Job, would be able to save only themselves and not the country itself. So, God says, how much worse will it be for Jerusalem in facing these four things. Nevertheless, he promises that some will survive and join those already in exile. The sense is that when those with Ezekiel witness the evil actions of these survivors, they will be consoled about the destruction of Jerusalem, seeing how right and just it was (14v12-23). The section stresses that no matter how terrible God’s judgement may seem to us, it is right. How much we need to hold to this with respect to hell. No doubt in glory we will be consoled in recognizing that God has not condemned people there without cause. We also learn here that at times God does bring disaster on the nations of the world in judgement for their sin. As the righteous do not always escape, 14v14 must simply mean that if they were to be saved (as Lot from Sodom), they could only save themselves.
            Chapter 15 stresses that the wood of a vine is not even as good as other wood, as nothing useful is made of it. And it is even more useless when burned. So just as God has given vine wood to be used in fire, although the people of Jerusalem have come out of one fire, in surviving previous threats, fire will still consume them in the coming destruction. Again, God says, they will know he is the LORD, as when all that God predicts comes to pass.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he has revealed his word clearly for us in scripture. Pray that those who confess faith but love things more than God, would repent and give their hearts to him.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(322) November 18: Ezekiel 16 & Hebrews 12

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note why Jerusalem’s sin is so serious.

To ponder:
Ezekiel is now to confront Jerusalem with an astonishing but quite explicit oracle in which God outlines the seriousness of her unfaithfulness when considering his care for her. He begins grounding the city’s birth in the Canaanite peoples who first built it and then despised it through lack of care (16v1-6). No doubt, this is to stress that its greatness is wholly down to God’s favour. He describes himself as seeing the city as a baby kicking in its blood, and said “live” – so that it grew and became like a beautiful woman. This may refer to how the city fared before the Israelites took it. But God then notes how later he passed by, saw it was like a woman ready for love and entered into a marriage contract with it. The image of covering with the corner of his garment implies a commitment to provide for her, but also, here, cover her shame – perhaps that of belonging to pagans. The day she became his would therefore be the day she became an Israelite city (16v7-8). God then describes how he washed and beautified his new bride, providing the best clothes and food so that she became a very beautiful queen, whose fame spread amongst the nations (16v9-14). We might consider Jerusalem in the days of Solomon, and the Queen of Sheba being overwhelmed at his wisdom, palace and temple. The point is that God made Jerusalem the greatest of all cities, not least with its unique privilege of his husbandly love and care. And all these things are equally and more wonderfully true of the new Jerusalem, which is the church.
            Yet Jerusalem forgot who she was dependent on and trusted in her own beauty. So she turned from the one who had passed by and married her, instead prostituting herself to anyone else (ie. other gods) who passed by so her beauty became theirs. She used the wealth God had given, to make high places and idols, and used the garments, oil and food he had especially given, to clothe and make offerings to false gods. In this pagan worship she even sacrificed some of her sons, that were born to God in the sense that they were a gift from him and intended to grow up with him as their father. In all this, she didn’t remember her infancy when she had nothing before God took care of her (16v15-22). It’s an intimate picture of how appalling the people’s rejection of God was, just as ours is when we consider every good thing we have is from him. Yet it also reflects how his anger is a jealous anger provoked by his deep love for his people.
            At this point God declares “woe” against the city because of what this will mean. He adds how she even erected a mound, with shrines throughout the city where she prostituted herself to whoever came her way, and especially with Egypt, Assyria and Babylon respectively. Here the stress is probably not so much on worshipping their gods, but looking to them for protection when she should have looked to her divine husband. In response to the first we are told she was handed over to the Philistines who were themselves shocked, perhaps at how ready she was to ally herself with others. And we are told her desire for anyone but God was insatiable (16v23-29). God states how weak willed she was. Indeed, declaring her an adulterous wife, he says she was so filled with desire that she would actually give gifts to her lovers and scorn payment, so being worse than a prostitute. This must refer to her approaching and bribing the above nations to enter into alliances with her (16v30-34). It is similar when the Christian looks into other religions in order to find something they prefer to Christ.
            In response, God states that he will gather all the city’s lovers against her, including those she hated – presumably because their alliance worked against her. God says he will strip her so that they see her nakedness. This would symbolise him divorcing her, and must refer to her losing the glory he had given her, so the nations see how utterly needy she is without God. He adds that in his jealous wrath he will give her the punishment due for adultery and murder, so handing her over to these lover nations, who will strip her of her finery and put her to death, burning down her houses. Stating this will be in the sight of many women must refer to the watching nations. And by this means God will stop the prostitution of her idolatry as she will no longer be able to pay her lovers. This is his ultimate purpose in her judgement. So he declares his anger and jealousy will then turn away and he will be calm (16v35-42). All this, we are told, is because Jerusalem did not remember her youth (16v43). It’s a reminder of the importance of remembering what we would be, but for the grace of God in Christ.
            In what follows, God states Jerusalem is proving herself not only like her Canaanite mother, who herself despised her husband and children – perhaps referring to her rejection of the true God and readiness to engage in child sacrifice. She is also even worse than her sisters who are named as Samaria (older as bigger) and Sodom (younger as smaller), with their daughters (ie. surrounding villages). This would all be truly shocking to a people who considered themselves descended from the righteous Abraham and Sarah, and who felt themselves above the nations around them. The sin of Sodom is listed as arrogance and excess that led to a lack of concern for the needy, which is always a temptation for those who have much. God’s point is that he did away with Sodom, so how much more should he do away with Jerusalem. Likewise, Samariah, that was destroyed by Assyria in judgement committed only half the city’s sins. God therefore declares Jerusalem should bear its disgrace as its acts have given a degree of justification to these two sisters by making them appear relatively righteous (16v43-52)! Within the church too, there are those who can fall to depths of depravity that make the non-Christian world look good by comparison.
            Here God promises to restore to well-being not just Jerusalem, but Sodom and Samariah, but all so that those in Jerusalem might be ashamed that their sin was so bad as to put those cities in a better light – especially when she wouldn’t previously have even mentioned Sodom because of the assumption that she was so depraved. As for now, she is despised by the towns of Edom, Philistia and the other nations around her (16v53-57).
            The chapter ends, with God declaring how she will bear the consequences of her sin and breach of his covenant, but also that he will remember that covenant and so establish another, eternal one (ie. a new marriage). God will then make Samaria and Sodom subordinate to her even though he did not make a covenant with them. And Jerusalem will know the LORD is God, he will atone for her sin, and in response, she will be ashamed and humbled (16v58-63). Again, we must see the new covenant here, that Gentiles are given a share in, even though it is made with Israel. And we should note that it is when God’s people experience his forgiveness through the cross, that they see their sin for what it is and hang their heads in shame. Indeed, Jewish Christians see that they may even have acted more appalling than Gentile Christians before their conversion.    

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his care of his bride, the church, which he beautifies through Christ. Pray that you would maintain a deep sense of your sin, and what you would be but for Christ.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(323) November 19: Ezekiel 17-19 & Hebrews 13

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note the qualities God displays.

To ponder:
God now instructs Ezekiel to use a parable. His later words (17v11-15) interpret his earlier ones (17v3-8). So Nebuchadnezzar (the king of Babylon) is the great eagle carrying off the Jerusalem’s king (Jeoiachin) and nobles (top of the cedar of Lebanon) to Babylon. His taking a seed from Israel and planting it so it becomes a vine turned towards him but with roots underneath, refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s treaty with one of the royal family (Zedekiah), so that the kingdom (vine) could only survive by reliance on his. Yet the sense is that the kingdom could have thrived under these circumstances (17v8). However, the vine instead stretched out and sent its roots to a second eagle (the king of Egypt), to whom Zedekiah sent envoys for horses and an army, breaking his previous treaty. In response, because of this breach of oath, God declares all new growth on the vine will wither and be easily uprooted, with Zedekiah dying in Babylon, and Pharaoh unable to help when Babylon lays siege to Jerusalem (17v1-18).
            The reason the breach of oath is so serious is because it was taken in God’s name (see 2 Chr 36v13), so God can declare he will bring “his” oath and covenant on Zedekiah’s head, have his fleeing troops fall and the survivors scattered. Moreover, he will take a shoot from the cedar (ie. another member of the Davidic line) and plant it on a high mountain in Israel, so that it will produce branches and fruit as a great cedar, with birds nesting and finding shelter in its branches. As with the vine, the tree refers to the kingdom of which the king is its topmost shoot (see 17v3-4). It is portrayed as able to shelter all those who seek it – of whatever kind (ie. country). It is then compared with other trees (kingdoms) which will then know that God uproots great kingdoms (the tall tree) and grows lesser ones (the low trees), implying that they should acknowledge him (17v10-24). Jesus himself taught that this is fulfilled in his kingdom, that will spread through his word (Matt 13v31-32). The point is that no matter how fallen God’s people seem to be, his kingdom will one day fill the earth and his king be acknowledged by the nations.
            Next God urged Ezekiel to question the people’s proverb that suggests that in the destruction by Babylon the current generation is suffering for their father’s sins (18v1-2). Of course, we have seen there is a sense in which that was true, and it was a principle within Israel’s law (Ex 34v7, see notes there). But God’s response clarifies that it doesn’t warrant the assumption that the current generation are somehow innocent, or that it is futile for them to repent. Rather, it remains true that the one who sins who will die. The sense is that because everyone belongs to him, God is concerned with each individually, so he will not allow the guilty to be pardoned or the innocent to be punished. He therefore states that despite this principle, the righteous man will surely live, challenging the reader by defining the righteous as one who acts justly, does not commit idolatry, obeys the law in matters of sex, does not oppress others for monetary gain, but who gives to the needy, keeps himself from wrongdoing, deals fairly with people, and keeps God’s laws. He adds that if this righteous person has a violent son who does any of these things, he will be put to death with his blood being on his own head (ie. being accountable for his own guilt). He continues, that if this man’s son sees this and so refrains from the things his father did, then he will not die for his father’s sins, but live (18v3-18). To those that ask why he doesn’t share his father’s guilt, expecting that this is what should happen, God responds, he does not, because he has been careful to keep God’s decrees, and “the soul who sins is the one who will die.”  So each person’s righteousness or wickedness will be charged to their account only (18v19-20). Indeed, when a wicked man repents, he will live and none of his offences will be remembered, for God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but would rather they received mercy. Yet if a righteous man turns into sin, he will die and none of his righteous acts will be remembered (18v21-24). We must conclude then that God punishes the children for the sins of their fathers only if they continue in them, but not if they turn from them. And it is true that the righteous in Jerusalem could have obeyed the prophets by surrendering to Babylon as Jeremiah did, and so being taken into exile rather than starving under siege.
            No doubt all this was stressed to reassure the exiles that the destruction of Jerusalem was entirely just, as God does not punish the upright. However, God anticipates them charging him with being unjust, still, it seems, assuming that the current residents of Jerusalem were wrongly being punished for their fathers’ sins. God’s declaration that the exile’s ways are actually unjust may be a reference to their assumption that these people should be acquitted. So God again asserts the principles he has outlined. His point is that the people need to turn from their sin rather than presume their innocence. He affirms that he will judge each according to his ways, but calls them to this repentance because he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and promises that those who do will get a new heart ad spirit so that they can obey him (18v25-32). It’s a marvellous demonstration of God’s reluctance in judgement, and the love that moves him to call people to himself.
            The lament of chapter 19 presents Israel as a lioness rearing kings (see Gen 49v9 for the image of lion for king). So we read of Jehoahaz becoming strong and ruthlessly oppressing his people before being carried to Egypt (2 Kgs 23v33). The second cub is probably Jehoiachim (although possibly one of the two succeeding kings). He also grew strong, oppressed his people, and sacked their towns, before being captured, taken before Nebuchadnezzar and imprisoned in Babylon (2 Kgs 23v36-24v4, 2 Chr 36v6). Ezekiel then speaks of the nation as mother to these kings with the familiar imagery of a fruitful vine (Gen 49v9-12) with strong branches that bore the ruler’s sceptre, and so represent kings. It was high, perhaps implying arrogant. And was uprooted, shrivelled by the east wind (Babylon from the east) and stripped of fruit (those taken into exile). It’s strong branches (Jehoahaz and Jehoichim) were weakened and consumed, it transplanted to the desert (Babylon), with fire spreading from a main branch (Zedekiah) to consumer the rest of its fruit (the destruction of Jerusalem that he provoked). The lament highlights that there is no davidic king left, calling into question God’s promise (19v1-14, see 2 Sam 7v10-16).
           
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his reluctance to judge and leaning towards mercy. Pray that you would never turn to wickedness.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(324) November 20: Ezekiel 20-21 & James 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note the form God’s judgement takes.

To ponder:
Chapter 20 records another time (as 14v1) when elders came to enquire of God through Ezekiel. God’s response is that he will not let them do so, asking Ezekiel whether he will judge and confront them for their idolatry. He relates how he chose Israel, revealed himself to them as the LORD when in Egypt, and swore to bring them to the promised land, calling them to get rid of their idolatry. But they rebelled by not doing so. God therefore said he would pour his wrath out on them, but for the sake of his own reputation before the nations, he continued with them, taking them into the desert and making known to them his laws by which those who obey might live. He gave them the Sabbath as a sign of his covenant agreement with them too – a reminder that they were holy and so to be set-apart and different for God, just as the seventh day is (20v1-12).
            But in the desert the people rebelled, rejecting God’s laws and desecrating is Sabbath (see Numbers). Again, God therefore said he would pour out his wrath on them. And again, to keep his name from being profaned amongst the watching nations he continued with them. He swore not to give them their land, but looked in pity on them and did not destroy them. Instead, he told the children not to follow the ways of their fathers, but carefully keep his laws and Sabbath, so that they will know that he is the LORD their God – presumably by what he would do for them (20v13-20).
            Now, we read that the children rebelled too, as their fathers had. So God promised to pour his wrath on them, but withheld it for the sake of his reputation amongst the watching nations. With hand uplifted in readiness to strike Israel, he swore that he would scatter them, and gave them over to their sinful practices, letting them even be defiled by their sacrificing of their firstborn children to the god Molech. His intention was that this would so horrify them that they would know he was God after all (20v21-26). The whole section demonstrates how the people had always sinned as they now were in Jerusalem and even in exile, and so how justified God’s judgement was, having again and again held it back in the past. It reveals the nation of his wrath in handing people over to sin (see Rom 1v18-32). It also shows God’s concern throughout Israel’s history that the watching world would acknowledge his reality and holiness through his acts for Israel, just as he now desires that as they see his acts through Christ.
            At this point God tells Ezekiel to tell Israel how their fathers also blasphemed God’s name, by forsaking him and turning to idolatry in the land. He is to challenge the exilic elders over whether they will sin in this same way, and declare that because they do God will not let them enquire of him (20v27-31). It is presumptuous indeed if we persist in sin to think that God will hear or respond to our prayers. God adds that whereas the Israelites do this because they want to be like the nations in the form of their religion, that will not happen, as he with a firm hand he will assert his rule over them and actually separate them from the nations they have been scattered to. As in the Exodus, he will take them into a “desert of the nations” (perhaps the land between these nations and Israel) where he will judge them. The “rod” refers to the means of discipline, and “bond of the covenant” to him dealing with them according to their agreement (see Deut 28-30). The sense is that during the return, he will purge the rebellious Israelites from the people, so only a faithful remnant reach Israel itself (20v32-38). It’s unclear how this was fulfilled. It may refer to an event not mentioned in scripture during the return, or to Ezra’s punishment of those not keeping the law as commanded by Artaxerxes (see Ez 7v26). To certainly looks to how Christ will separate the sheep from the goats on the last day (Matt 25v31-46).
            God continues by telling Israel through the elders to carry on in their idolatry, but promising that when finally on Mount Zion, they will listen, no longer profane his name, but serve him. And he will accept them, and so require right worship from them, and show himself holy to the nations – presumably by the holiness he works within his people, as then, they will know he is the LORD and loathe their previous conduct. What is striking however, is that we are told this will take place because God does not deal with them as they deserve, but for his name’s sake – that is for the sake of his own reputation and glory (20v39-44). This is of course the only grounds for his willingness to show such mercy to us. And it makes our holiness that bit more important, that it would display his holiness to the world.
            With all this said, Ezekiel is called to preach against a forest in the south, that it is about to be consume by an unquenchable fire. Previously the kingdom of Israel has been referred to as a cedar (17v3-4), and this is no doubt a prophetic prediction of the coming devastation of Jerusalem and Judea.
            In chapter 21, Ezekiel is then told to preach against the sanctuary (temple) and land, declaring God’s sword will come against both the righteous and the wicked throughout the land. Although chapter 18 has affirmed the righteous will not suffer specific punishment, because this one is against the nation they are included. We’re told that on experiencing this, the people will know God is acting in judgement. Ezekiel is to groan before those in exile, explaining how what will happen will cause every heart to faint. What follows states that there will be no rejoicing in the kingly line from Judah as God’s sword is against them too, causing the fulfilment of God’s promise to David to come into question (21v1-13). Having been called to stress the coming slaughter (21v14-17), Ezekiel seems to be required to draw a map with two roads, one to the Ammonite city of Rabbah, and one to Judah and Jerusalem, with a signpost to the city. He is to say how Nebuchadnezzar will consult his idols for guidance at the crossroads and God will ensure the lot signals for him to besiege Jerusalem. This will seem a false omen to those in Jerusalem who have made a treaty with Nebuchadnezzar (ie. Zedekiah), but his actions in enslaving them will remind them that they are guilty before God (21v18-24). Ezekiel continues, that Zedekiah’s time for punishment has come. So those exalted in Jerusalem will be brought low, whilst the lowly, who trust God will be exalted, presumably in their return from exile. The king is therefore to remove his crown. And it is stressed that it, and by consequence, the kingly line, will be a ruin until the one to whom it belongs comes. This refers to the awaited Messiah (see Gen 49v10). And Zedekiah was the last king of Israel before Christ. (21v25-27).
            The final oracle is against the very Ammonites who seem to have been spared because God moved Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem (see 21v20). The LORD declares that they too will be slaughtered by the sword despite false prophecies that they would not be. However, he then declares that the one wielding the sword (Nebuchadnezzar) will return to his land of origin (Babylonia) where he himself will face God’s wrath, being judged and killed by others so that he is no longer remembered in the sense of not being acknowledged (21v28-32). None escape God’s judgement.
           
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that in his concern for his own glory he doesn’t treat us as we deserve. Pray that you would nevertheless acknowledge your sin before him.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(325) November 21: Ezekiel 22-23 & James 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note the sins Samaria and Jerusalem are condemned for.

To ponder:
The LORD asks Ezekiel if he will judge Jerusalem for her bloodshed and detestable idolatry. He is to declare that she is doomed and will become an object of scorn to the nations because of the guilt this has led to (22v1-5). The princes in Jerusalem in particular are denounced for holding their parents in contempt, oppressing foreigners and the needy, despising the things of the temple, and breaking the Sabbath. Different categories of men are then condemned: those who shed blood, those who commit idolatry and immorality in breach of God’s laws on sex, who take bribes, who engage in extortion and forget God (22v6-12). Signifying his anger, God says he will clap his hands at the unjust gain and bloodshed, asking if the people will have sufficient courage to endure the day he deals with them. He promises to put an end to their uncleanness by scattering them amongst the nations where they will be defiled – presumably by the nations’ uncleanness. Then, he states, they will know he is the LORD (22v13-16).
            He continues that Israel have become like the dross left in a furnace. So he will deal with them accordingly - burning them up and melting them in his wrath. He states the land has experienced a drought in this day of his wrath. He then condemns every category of person: (1) Israel’s royal princes for devouring people like a lion, and plundering them; (2) her priests for doing violence (perhaps twisting) to the law, profaning God’s holy things in the temple (no doubt by allowing idolatrous practices), teaching no difference between clean and unclean, and not caring about people keeping God’s Sabbaths; (3) her officials for killing people for gain; (4) her prophets who justify these practices with false visions; (5) the people more generally, for exhortation, and oppressing the needy and foreigners (22v17-29). Using a military metaphor, God declares that in all this he looked for someone who would build up the people’s broken walls (their spiritual ruin) and stand in the gap (their lack of godliness) so that God as the enemy would not be able to break in with his wrath. But he found none, and so will destroy them. The point is that there was no-one who could bring the people to true repentance. Of course, this highlights the need of Christ who both renews our hearts into holiness and takes the full force of God’s wrath upon himself so that we might be protected from it.
            What follows is a story of two daughters who became prostitutes in Egypt when young. They are named as Samaria (the northern capital) and Jerusalem (the southern), who as the united kingdom of Israel first went after idols when in Egypt before Moses. Whilst still God’s, Ohalah (Samaria) then lusted after the upper society of Assyria, no doubt in desiring an alliance and shared culture with them, and defiling herself with their idols. Therefore, God says, he handed her over to them so they striped and killed her, taking her children away – into exile. Despite seeing this however, Oholibah (Jerusalem) was actually even more depraved, not only prostituting herself to Assyria in this way, but with the Chaldeans (ie. Babylonians), who then came and defiled her. She is said to have turned away in disgust – referring to Judah’s rebellions (see 2 Kgs 18-24), yet still increased her prostitution, recalling her idolatry in Egypt. This is described in the most graphic way to emphasize its depravity and intensity. And we are told that because of all this, God turned from her in disgust (23v1-21). There is a sense on the individual level too, that those who come to belong to God can long for and return to their past sins, bringing judgement upon themselves.
            To Oholibah (Jerusalem) God promises that in his fury at her sin, he will bring her Babylonian and Assyrian lovers against her in punishment. The very soldiers she lusted after will therefore attack her, taking away her children into exile, burning and plundering those remaining, and leaving Jerusalem naked, exposed, and shamed for what she has done. The reason seems to be that by this means God will ensure Jerusalem will no longer look back to Egypt or engage in her prostitution (23v22-31). He is prepared to use even the greatest hardships to draw his people to himself from their sin.
            Here God uses the familiar language of “cup” to describe his judgement. The image stresses the depth of judgement Jerusalem will drink – so much so that she will smash her cup having drained the dregs. It also stresses the consequences of the judgement in sorrow and ruin like those of the drunkard. So Jerusalem will tear the breasts in mourning that were once fondled in grief. God is clear, because she thrust him from her she must bear the consequences of her sin, whereas she might have been forgiven if she had only returned to him. So Ezekiel is commissioned to confront both Samaria and Jerusalem for their adultery, violence, idolatry, child sacrifice, defiling of the Sabbath – and of the temple by entering it after committing idolatry. 23v40-45 pictures the two cities sending for the envoys of other lands and preparing themselves like lewd women to offer them what should be offered to God. It adds that they also received from them goods, no doubt to give a false sense of commitment by way of an alliance. But although they entered the relationship like adulteresses, God then determined that the cities in punishment should be used like prostitutes, so the nations metaphorically slept with them, gaining from them what they wanted. Picturing a court in Israel, God declares that righteous men will sentence them to the penalty of adultery and murder – which is death. Perhaps the sense is that the righteous should recognise the fitness of their destruction. So God calls the mob (ie. the nations) to stone them and cut them down as would have been done with an adulterer. And again, as with that punishment, it is so that such lewdness ceases in the wider land, other women (cities) take warning, and these two cities know that God is the LORD (23v46-49). It’s a warning against such practices in our day, and a reminder that the most extreme penalties in Israel were not vindictive, but intended to ensure purity amongst the people and deter others from the same acts.
           
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for sending Christ to stand in the gap. Pray that the church today would learn from what happened to Jerusalem.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(326) November 22: Ezekiel 24-26 & James 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note why other nations are condemned by Ezekiel.

To ponder:
The next oracle comes on the very date Babylon besieges Jerusalem in fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prior prophecies. In the parable he is given, the city is a cooking pot, with the fire beneath it being the siege, and the choice bits of the animal being cooked, the city’s inhabitants. Because of their bloodshed, which God has seen, in wrath he commands they are taken out into exile. The deposit on the cauldron may be rust denoting the corruption of the city. The absence of lot by which God revealed his will in Israel perhaps emphasizes his rejection of the people. Instead he promises he will pile the wood high and cook the meat well, so intensifying the siege, until the impurities of the city that could not previously be removed are burned away (24v1-13).
            God continues by saying that he will not show pity or relent, judging the city according to her actions. An event with tragic prophetic symbolism is then recounted. God promises that he will take away Ezekiel’s delight – which is his wife! But he is commanded not to mourn publicly. Instead, when the people ask what this has to do with them, he is to speaks God’s word, stating that God is about to desecrate the temple, which is the delight of the people’s eyes, and have their sons and daughters left behind in Jerusalem killed. Yet the people will not mourn. This seems to be a command that they shouldn’t because the city’s destruction is deserved. But it could be a description of the fact that they won’t because they don’t truly care. Whatever the case, Ezekiel’s actions are a sign so that when a fugitive from Jerusalem arrives with the news, the people will recognise Ezekiel is a true prophet, and that his words are therefore the LORD’s. We are told that at this time Ezekiel will no longer be a sign and will be permitted to speak in a way previously forbidden – signifying the culmination of his prophecies of judgement as the city is finally destroyed (24v14-27).
            What follows are therefore prophecies against other nations. The first is against the Ammonites. Because they rejoiced at what happened to Judah, they will be conquered and settled by people from the east. Then they are told they will know God is the LORD. Yet they are also told that they will be given as plunder to the nations, and be totally destroyed as a people group (25v1-7). The same is predicted for Moab, with the fortified cities it gloried in taken. And all because, in witnessing Judah’s destruction, it rejected their unique place before God (25v8-11). Edom are condemned for taking the opportunity the Babylonian troubles brought to attack Judah themselves. Here, God promises that the people of Israel will lay the land to waste and kill its people with the sword (24v28-14). The Philistines are charged with the same opportunism, and also told they will be destroyed under God’s wrath, so they will know he is the LORD (24v15-17). It is noteworthy that Ammon and Moab were overrun by tribes people, Edom’s descendents were destroyed by Jews in the second century BC, and the Philistines simply disappeared from history around the same time. God’s word always comes to pass.
            These judgements on the nations show that peoples will be held to particular account for their attitude to God’s people. And this is especially so for Tyre, who rejoices at Jerusalem’s destruction as the trading gate to the nations, because this will cause Tyre itself to prosper. Three chapters are given to this city because of its significance. So the LORD declares he will bring Nebuchadnezzar and his army to reduce it to a ruin like waves from the sea around it. Much detail is given about what this will entail. Ezekiel says that Tyre will permanently become a bare rock, suitable only for fishing, with her settlements destroyed by the sword, her merchandise plundered, and all joy gone (26v1-14). Again, reflecting God’s grand purpose of the nations coming to acknowledge him, he states they will then know he is the LORD. This pervasive idea reminds us that on the last day when all are judged, all will acknowledge God after all.
            God continues by describing how the coastlands and their kings will tremble to witness the fall of such a significant power, telling of it in a lament (26v15-18). Echoing the flood, the judgement is described as covering the city with the ocean, and bringing it down to the pit – the place of the dead, never to be found again (26v19-21). This links such temporary judgements with the eternal judgement. To suffer death now is to face the second death beyond.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for acting in justice against those who harm or rejoice in the harm of his people. Pray that as non-Christians face disaster they would come to know that the LORD is God.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(327) November 23: Ezekiel 27-28 & James 4

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note what led the king of Tyre into his sin.

To ponder:
God’s word against Tyre continues with a lament. Her supremacy in trade is noted because of her location by the sea (the western coast of modern Lebanon). And her pride is outlined: She considers herself perfect in her beauty, and is described as a ship, built with materials from all over the known world. In this, she benefited from the seamanship, skill and military service of those from the whole earth, with all on the sea coming to her for trade, paying with great wealth, slaves, animals, ivory and ebony, fabric, coral and jewels, natural products, wine and wool, iron, spices, saddle blankets, livestock, rugs etc etc (27v1-24).
            This all proves that the prosperity of a nation isn’t a sign of it being right with God. Rather, in his immense grace, God may grant a nation the sort of glory that will only rightly mark his kingdom. Yet when that nation takes pride in what they have, as if they had gained it for themselves, they in danger of a judgement that will humble them. So the metaphorical ship that is Tyre, is described as if in high seas, heavy with cargo. And here Ezekiel predicts the east wind (Babylon in the east) breaking her to pieces with her merchants and all the people and goods above on board. She will therefore sink into the sea, with all shorelands and seamen mourning her passing. Seeing the one who satisfied nations and enriched the kings of the earth gone, the inhabitants of the coastlands and their kings are also said to shudder in fear – no doubt because this could happen to them too (27v25-36). It brings home again that no matter how secure the nations of the earth assume they may be, their existence is subject to God’s will, and at Christ’s return, all that the world esteems will be lost.
            Next Ezekiel is to speak against the ruler of Tyre himself. Whether the ruler considered himself divine or not, he is said to presume he is equivalent to a god in his arrogance at the wisdom he exercised in enabling Tyre to prosper (see 28v4). Ezekiel is clear that he is not only just a man, but not wiser than Daniel, because he is not privileged to revelations from the true God. This description suggests the Daniel of our Old Testament is in mind (so also 14v14, 20), and was well known by this point, having been taken into exile in 605BC, twenty years earlier. Here God affirms the ruler’s wisdom and skill in trading, but denounces the fact that his heart has grown proud because of it. Because of this, he is going to bring the Babylonians against him, and they will bring the city down to the pit in the heart of the seas – referring to the geographical location of Tyre. The sense is that the ruler will not then be able to claim divinity, seeing he is nothing more than a man, dying like the uncircumcised that are not chosen of God (28v1-10). Only at the final judgement will all see just how weak and reliant on God they are.
            What follows is a famous oracle that seems patterned on the pride of Adam that led to his fall. This is wholly appropriate as he was to be ruler over the creation, and so is the paradigm for all human rule. God affirms the king of Tyre as a model of perfection, full of wisdom and beauty, living in Eden, and adorned with jewels like Israel’s priests (Ex 28v17-20), that were prepared on the day he was created. No doubt this refers to the wealth he enjoyed and the luxurious nature of the city he lived in and was to care for. He is therefore also pictured as the cherub from Eden, perhaps picking up his role of guarding his paradise-like city against invaders as if it was God’s holy mountain. The “fiery-stones” may be the coals of the altar in Israel’s temple, stressing this care was a priest-like role. Whether it is or not, he is said to be blameless until wickedness found him. Obviously this is an exaggeration to stress the pattern to Eden. The point is that trouble started when the king’s trade led him to do violence to others, no doubt in greed for more. This is described as corrupting his wisdom, because it was a corruption of right ways to go about trade. We are also told the king became proud at the beauty of Tyre. And it is for these reasons that God expelled him from the city, reducing him to ashes, and making him a spectacle of horror before other kings. The fall of this ruler is a salutary lesson to all engaged in business of how a desire for more and pride in achieving it can so easily lead to doing wrong to attain it. Indeed, there is a sense in which this desire for personal gain and proud assumption that we know best in how to achieve it lies behind all sin.
            28v20-24 records an oracle against Sidon, further up the coast from Tyre. We’re not told what their sins were. But Ezekiel declares God will gain glory within the region as its people come to know he is the LORD when he displays his holiness by inflicting punishment against them with plague and with sword. This means that Israel will no-longer have neighbours just to the north who will cause them harm like thorns, and on witnessing this they will know the one who speaks through Ezekiel is the LORD their God. This oracle seems placed here as God then speaks of gathering Israel from the nations, affirming that they will then be able to settle safely in the land because God will have punished the neighbouring nations who spoke against them (28v25-26). This is a key purpose to the many judgements we have read of. At one level they justly punish sin. At another they protect the returning remnant so that the Christ can eventually be born and God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 12v1-3) be finally fulfilled. In the same way, the final judgement will destroy the wicked so God’s people can live in safety within the new creation.
            God says that the return will be a means by which he shows his holiness amongst Israel to the nations. This probably refers to how he will show his holy anger at sin in his judgements on the nations and on Babylon, which will enable the people to return. But it may include him showing how superior to the false gods of the world he is in having the power to work such a deliverance. We should note his holiness in both these things.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his holiness seen in judging sin and securing an everlasting kingdom for his people. Pray that you would not be tempted to sin by greed and pride.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(328) November 24: Ezekiel 29-31 & James 5

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note what provoked God in Egypt.

To ponder:
The next oracle is against Pharoah and Egypt. Pharoah is pictured as a sea monster claiming the Nile is his. As with the King of Tyre, his problem is one of arrogance. So God promises to pull him out with his fish (the people of Egypt) sticking to his sides, and leave him in the desert as food for beasts – so that the people of Egypt will know Israel’s God is the LORD (29v1-6). Although this aim has been stressed throughout the book, here we can note it was God’s great concern in the Exodus. Even in times of temporal judgement he seeks worshippers.
           Pharoah is pictured as a staff of reed. Israel sought to lean on him through their alliance, only to be injured as it splintered (29v6-7). It is because of this unfaithfulness as well as Pharoah’s arrogance, that God says he will bring the sword to kill both men and animals, causing Egypt to be desolate for forty years, with the people scattered throughout the nations. This time period is fitting when once considers the years Israel had to spend in the desert having escaped Egypt. At its end, God promises to bring the Egyptians back to their land from captivity to be a lowly kingdom that will never exalt itself again above nations. The point is that Egypt will no longer be a place Israel seeks to rely on, but a reminder of her sin in turning from God to seek Egypt’s help. And so they will know, as Ezekiel’s words are fulfilled, that God is the sovereign LORD (29v8-16). Only reliance on God is secure and safe. What follows is a word in which God explains to Ezekiel that because Nebuchadnezzar got no reward from Tyre for his hard campaign there, God will bring him against Egypt to carry of its wealth a reward (29v17-20). It’s another affirmation of Nebuchadnezzar as the LORD’s servant.    
            29v21 seems to say that one day (which can be a period) Egypt is humbled a horn (symbolising power) will sprout up for Israel. This is the language of he promised Davidic king as a flourishing branch. It is therefore intended to give Israel hope that with although the one they relied on will be humbled, God will give them sufficient strength through his own king. And then they will know that what he enables Ezekiel to say in their present, was from him as God. It is as Christ fulfils the prophets that we find our faith strengthened, and recognize God spoke through them.
            A lament follows that describes the destruction in and around Egypt. On a day of doom for the nations in general we are told anguish will hit Egypt, her people will be killed, wealth taken and foundations destroyed. The fall of her allies including God’s covenant people will accompany this, so that they know God is the LORD. On that day messengers will bring the news to Cush causing fear. God will do this through Nebuchadnezzar, and it is described as a drying up of the Nile. By this means he will therefore destroy Egypt’s idols and royal line, and the distress of the various regions of Egypt is then stressed. It ends once more with a note that this will be to put her pride – or proud strength – to an end, and so break the yoke she puts on others. The language of fire, storm, darkness and cloud echoes that of Sinai, stressing God’s awesome presence (30v1-19).
            30v20-26 ensures Judah doesn’t keep relying on Egypt. It speaks of how God had already severely limited Pharoah’s ability to fight (no doubt through Babylon), yet adds that he will metaphorically break his second arm so he cannot wield a sword at all. He will then scatter the Egyptians, contrasting his action on Pharoah with a promise to actually strengthen the arms of Nebuchadnezzar and put a sword in his hand, all so Egypt know God is the LORD. Sometimes the loss of something we rely on when we should rely on God, is in order to ensure we look to him.
            A little later God’s word came again. Perhaps with some sarcasm, Ezekiel is to ask of Pharoah and his army who can compare with their majesty. He is then to describe Assyria as like a cedar in Lebanon, tall, thick, and nourishing other trees (nations) too which it majestically towered over, with all the great nations living in its shade and so under its protection. The description of how abundantly it was watered showed how it was blessed by God. Indeed, he says he made it so beautiful that none of the cedars in Eden could rival it (31v1-9). Yet, God says that it is explicitly because it was so high and took pride in that, that God handed it over to “the ruler of the nations” (ie. Nebuchadnezzar) to cut it down. The picture of its branches falling in mountains, valleys and ravines probably stresses its geographical size, and how the whole empire fell. So all the nations lefts its shade. This meant leaving its protection, implied perhaps by the beast now being able to get at the birds in its branches (31v1-13). 31v14 implies that in the light of the fall of Assyria others trees (nations) by waters (ie. blessed by God) should take warning, recognizing they are never to so proudly tower high, considering themselves above other trees, as that would likewise mean death among mortal men – a reminder that kings of even the greatest nations are mere mortals. God adds that on the day Assyria was brought down, he restrained the waters (of blessing) in mourning, bringing gloom to Lebanon and causing the nations to whither in fear, as all the best trees of Lebanon (ie. nations of the world), its allies, were “consoled” at Assyria’s fall in the grave, being killed by the sword too. Bracketing the chapter with 31v2, 31v18 asks which of these trees can compare with Egypt in splendour, yet Egypt will be brought down to lie with the other uncircumcised too. It’s yet another reminder that the seemingly greatest kings and nations are subject to God for any greatness, and can be removed in a moment if arrogant. Here, we might remember that through all Ezekiel’s prophecies God speaks as the “Sovereign LORD.” They stress that he is the true and only ultimate ruler.
                                                         
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he rules everything and all are subject to him. Pray that you therefore be kept from pride at what he has given you.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(329) November 25: Ezekiel 32-33 & 1 Peter 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note what sins God condemns.

To ponder:
The lament of chapter 32 is given almost two years after the previous oracle. Pharoah is likened to a lion or sea monster. He causes danger and turmoil, but God will use many people to net him, haul him onto land where the birds and beasts will feast on him. The description of his remains covering mountains and valleys portrays the fall of Egypt as total, throughout its region. And the terror of the event is stressed by the language of darkness that is also a motif for God’s judgement. The event will cause many to be appalled for their own life, in seeing how susceptible to God’s justice they are too (32v1-11). God explains the attack will come from Babylon, which will humble Egypt’s pride, overthrow her hoards, destroy her cattle and strip the land. 32v14-15 implies that contrasting the thrashing of Pharoah in Egypt’s streams (32v2), after this Egypt will know the peace that stems from more stable rule, because they will acknowledge the LORD. This may look to the inclusion of Egyptians with Israelites through faith in the Christ. Whatever the case, the lament will be sung by the daughters of the nations on seeing what will happen (32v16). No matter how justified judgement is, we should lament the fall of peoples and nations.
            Two weeks later God’s word came again, telling Ezekiel to wail or mourn for the great multitude of Egypt, consigning her and the women lamenting her from the nations, to the pit of death. The point is that presumed greatness doesn’t mean favour from God. Rather, Egypt will lie with the other Gentile (uncircumcised) nations, whose leaders will acknowledge this from the grave. What follows is a list of the great nations who are there: Assyria, surrounded by her army who once spread such terror; Elam with those from her who were slain, bearing the shame of the terror they brought on others; Meschech and Tubal too, receiving punishment for their sins; Pharoah also; Edom, despite her power; and the princes of the north and Sidonians – slain in disgrace despite their power. The stress is on the fact that those who create terror in life will all die, with a hint that they will receive the just punishment for their sin. Indeed, they will lie with the uncircumcised, implying they are not privileged in the grave with the favour of God’s covenant people. God does not show favouritism. Those who abuse the much they now have, will have little then.
            As earlier in the book, the next oracle plays on the illustration of the watchman. Those who refuse to heed his warning trumpet are responsible for their own blood as they could have saved themselves. But if the watchman doesn’t sound the warning, although the man who suffers the sword will die for his own sin, God will hold the watchman accountable. God tells Ezekiel as his spiritual watchman, that the same principles apply to his role of dissuading Israel from their wicked ways when God gives a word that they will die. Indeed, if he seeks to warn, even if a man dies for refusing to repent, Ezekiel will be saved – presumably from being put to death because of bringing about the death of others through his negligence (33v1-9). It’s a sobering parable for the preacher.
            Here Ezekiel is to express the exiles’ sense of wasting away because of their sin. As they wonder how they will survive, God declares that as surely as he “lives” he takes no pleasuring the death of the wicked, but desires that they turn from sin and live. He therefore calls them to do so. His point is that their despair still displays an unwillingness to repent and trust God for life. The principles of justice are then outlined: Those who are righteous but who then disobey will not be saved from death, even if they were told they would live when righteous. Whereas the wicked who turns from that wickedness will be saved, even if told they will die when wicked. The sense is that one’s previous life will not be taken into account. One’s spiritual state when the accounting comes is what matters. Repentance is described as doing what is just and right, putting right what one has done wrong, following God’s decrees and doing no evil (33v10-16). To all this God anticipates the exiles saying this is unjust – perhaps because they felt God should not condemn those who were once righteous if they turn to sin, or forgive those who were wicked if they turn from it. If this is correct, they are wrongly assuming a scales of judgement in which the good must outweigh the bad. God simply states it is those who think this who are not just, whereas he judges according to people’s ways (33v17-20). But what we see is that this accounting accounts for one’s response to God – whether turning from him in complacency or to him in need.
            33v21-22 records how word finally came to the exiles of Jerusalem’s fall. God had prepared Ezekiel for this the previous evening, by giving him back his ability to speak freely (fulfilling 24v26-27, see also 3v26-27). God’s word comes first about those remaining in Judah. They were reassuring themselves that just as Abraham was given the land as a possession, surely they have been given it too. To this God asks “why,” when they break his food laws, commit idolatry, rely on violence and are immoral. Perhaps by sending a message, Ezekiel is to declare that the sword, wild animals and plague will kill those in the city’s ruins, the surrounding countryside, and stronghold towns or caves respectively. The phrase “as surely as the LORD lives” not only affirms its certainty, but the fact that it is because God lives this will happen, because it comes by his hand. The point is that none will escape his judgement. So he declares he will lay the land waste, humbling Judah’s pride, and the people will then know he is the LORD (33v23-29).
            God adds that Ezekiel’s countrymen in exile are saying to one-another throughout Babylon that they should go and hear God’s message. They therefore come and sit before him. But they do not practice what he says. As with false worship today, their mouths express devotion whilst their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. It’s a challenge to those who feign spirituality by talking the talk. Prophets used to prophesy to music. So these people’s spiritual blindness is seen in the fact that they see Ezekiel’s prophecies about God’s concern for his people as nothing more than love songs sung by an able musician. They are like those who esteem the rhetorical skill of a good preacher or the capabilities of a great worship band, but do nothing about putting what they hear from them into practice. But God declares that they will know Ezekiel is a prophet rather than a celebrity when his words come true.
           
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that in grace he judges us according to our current response not past deeds. Pray that you would put what you hear from preachers or worship songs into practice.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(330) November 26: Ezekiel 34-35 & 1 Peter 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note what God promises to do for his people.

To ponder:
Ezekiel is now to prophesy against Israel’s religious leaders who should have cared for the people like shepherds for sheep. They are condemned for instead caring only for themselves, taking a milk product, wool and meat from the flock – which implies getting what they can from the people, whilst failing to actually give back by strengthening the weak, healing the sick or binding up the injured – a reference to practical care. Nor have they brought back those straying or lost (probably a reference to those who had turned from the LORD), but have ruled them harshly. And what this resulted in was the whole flock being scattered into exile, where they have been subject to attack from other nations (34v1-6). It is this imagery that Jesus used for the pastor, and here there is a rebuke for those who are greedy for gain and fail to actually minister to their flock.
            All this demonstrates that God’s sheep lack a true shepherd. So God says he is against the shepherds and will hold them accountable, removing them from their position so they can no longer feed themselves at the sheep’s expense, and so that the flock might be rescued from them (34v7-10). No doubt this was fulfilled in exile, but it looks to Jesus’ rejection of the leaders in his day.
            In what follows, God declares that instead he himself will do what the shepherds failed to do. He will search out his sheep, care for them, rescue them from the nations they are scattered to, and bring them back to their land as pasture. There he till tend them, and they will lie down and feed on the best grass. Moreover, God himself will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak (34v11-16). Yet he will also justly destroy the sleek and strong – because their good health has been at the expense of the others (see 34v3, 20). One cannot but think of Psalm 23 and John 10, where Jesus declares himself the “good shepherd,” and displays this in his healing miracles. It is in him that God shepherds his people, once more showing that the rescue from the oppression of exile was ultimately achieved when Jesus drew Jews to faith in himself, bringing them to the green pasture of the new creation. Yet he also shepherds them through his under-shepherds – the apostles and church ministers who fetch, feed and care for the flock with God’s word.
            The LORD adds that he will judge between sheep, and between rams and goats. Here he charges the shepherds with not only feeding and drinking the best of the pasture, but of ruining the rest so the other sheep don’t benefit. The picture is of how strong sheep bully the weaker ones, taking the best food and water (34v17-21). Jesus’ application to him judging on the basis of whether people display a true faith in caring for his people is therefore entirely apt and profoundly challenging. Not to, makes people liable to hell itself (Matt 25v31-47). And so through Ezekiel, God states he will judge between the fat and lean sheep, saving the weak so they are no longer plundered. And it is here he explicitly states he will place a Davidic descendent as shepherd over them, to tend them whilst he acts as their God. In the light of his prior promise to shepherd them himself, there are hints to this shepherd-king also being divine (34v22-24).
            In this context God promises a new covenant of peace, in which he rids the land of wild beasts so his people can live in safety, and be blessed with showers that will ensure good pasture. Here he moves from the illustration to simply state that the people will enjoy abundant harvests, and security in no longer being plundered. In being freed from their captivity to this, they will also know God is the LORD, and that he is with them as his people – the sheep of his pasture (34v25-31). This is a picture of the final judgement in which all who might oppress are excluded from the new creation so that God’s people can live not just in a world of abundance, but one of security. This should encourage us as we face evil in the present.
            Chapter 35 sees Ezekiel prophesying against Mount Seir – the geographical location of the Edomites. God declares he will stretch out his hand in judgement, making it a waste and causing its towns to be ruined, after which Edom will know he is the LORD. The reason is that, because of a long standing hostility to Israel, Edom somehow handed them over to Babylon – perhaps by joining the fight against them. God therefore swears by his own life that he will give them over to bloodshed (the punishment fitting the crime) and pursue them – no doubt a reference to an enemy chasing them. He adds that the slain will cover the land of Edom, stressing again that they will then know he is the LORD (35v1-9).
            What follows implies the reason for their betrayal of God’s people was a desire to posses their land – both north and south. God denounces this in particular because it expressed jealousy at Israel’s land, and anger at the Hebrew people despite the fact that God was with them – in the temple. He therefore says that as he judges Edom he will be making himself known to his people. Edom will then know the LORD heard all the things they said against Israel by claiming that in being laid to waste, the land was being given over to Edom to devour. God describes this as boasting against him, no doubt in presuming to be able to take the land he desired that Israel have. So he declares that because they rejoiced when Israel was desolate, they will be desolate when the whole earth rejoices (36v10-15). This may imply that Edom’s demise would occur when the rest of the world was celebrating the fall of Babylon. Once more, however, we see the punishment aptly fit the crime. We also see the seriousness of acting against God’s people.
            The reason for the prophesy against Edom being here is probably because of her particular sin with respect to the fall of Jerusalem which has just been noted, but also to display God’s commitment to remove the wild beasts who might otherwise devour his sheep when he gathers them from their exile (as 34v28).
                       
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his care in coming to shepherd us himself in Christ. Pray for the raising up of faithful shepherds throughout the church.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(331) November 27: Ezekiel 36-37 & 1 Peter 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note what God says about the future of his people.

To ponder:
These chapters are two of the most important in the book for understanding the New Testament. Ezekiel is now called to speak against the mountains, and so land of Israel. Just as Edom had coveted the land (35v10) so God says Israel’s enemies had, claiming the heights as their possession. But he responds that they hounded the people in order to take the land, and slandered it – by implying Israel’s exile from it resulted from impotence or rejection by their God (see 36v13-15 below). The LORD therefore declares to the various features of the land and the ruined towns that he has spoken against the nations, so they themselves will suffer scorn. This stems from his burning zeal which seems synonymous with his jealous wrath – implying that he is passionately outraged at the nations taking his own land to be theirs. He then promises that after acting against the nations, the land will be fruitful, as his people will soon return and he will multiply them (and their livestock) so the towns will be rebuilt, and the people not only settle as they had before, but be even more prosperous. Then the land will metaphorically know the one speaking through Ezekiel is the LORD – ie. he will have proved himself the living God (36v1-11), just as he will have when we find ourselves raised to enjoy this to the extreme within the new creation.
            God continues that the land will again be his people’s inheritance and it will never again deprive them of their children – no doubt a reference to it spitting them out because of their sin in fulfilment of God’s covenant promise (36v12, 17, see Lev 18v24-28). This theology of land in which its fruitfulness and security was a reflection of the power and nature of its god, pervades this section. So the people are portrayed as taunting the land for loosing its inhabitants to exile, and God declares it will no longer hear those taunts because he will ensure this doesn’t happen again (36v13-15). The LORD goes on to explain that the people were scattered because they defiled the land by their bloodshed and idolatry so that he judged them accordingly and poured his wrath on them. Yet wherever they then went, they profaned God’s name (ie. reputation) because of the assumptions about gods and land the nations had. They would have assumed that either God had proved unfaithful to people, or unable to defeat the gods of other nations so they could keep their land (36v16-21). The godless person who claims faith in Christ, should recognize the same seriousness accompanies their action. If they suffer judgement for it, as some do (see Acts 5, 1 Cor 11v27-34) this can profane God’s name as non-Christians might assume he has abandoned the person without reason or is incapable of keeping them from such trial.
            In response to all this, God stresses that what he is about to say he will do is not for his people’s sake, but for the sake of his name. Their actions have desecrated that name so that it is no-longer regarded as set-apart and so holy. He is therefore going to sanctify it, and show how set-apart in his purity and power he is, so that the nations will know that he is the LORD. He is going to do this by (1) returning the people to the land in a sort of second Exodus, (2) cleansing them from the guilt of sin that has defiled them – where the sprinkling with water picks up ideas of ritual washing and the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifices, (3) giving them new hearts that are no longer hardened to himself because his Spirit lives in them, moving them to obey his laws (36v22-27). It is this twofold work of dealing with guilt and then grip of sin, that lies behind Jesus’ teaching of new birth by water and the Spirit in which he draws a parallel with his work on the cross and his gift of life (Jn 3v5, 15). Although the people returned to the land in the fifth century BC, we therefore see a hint that Ezekiel’s prophecy would only be truly fulfilled in Christ.
            The point is that then God’s covenant relationship will be able to be maintained. The people will live in the land as his people and no longer be unclean. So they will experience the covenant promise of fruitfulness to the land being fulfilled, and no longer be disgraced in the eyes of the nations because of a famine that implies their God is unfaithful or impotent. Then, God says they will remember and loathe their prior practice. And, as if it ensure they don’t presume this future implies their actions have been anything less than disgraceful, he reminds them he is not bringing these things about for their sake (36v28-32). They are acts of pure grace.
            God adds that on the day of Israel’s cleansing, they will be resettled and become secure, the land will be cultivated until it is like Eden, and the nations will know the LORD has rebuilt what he destroyed. He states that this will be in response to a plea from Israelites, and implies they will then live in worship of him, as the cities will be filled with people like the flocks that are gathered as offerings during Israel’s feasts (36v33-38). We should not get too caught up in the chronology here. The point is that although the people did resettle in the fifth century, God’s act of cleansing his people and restoring the kingdom to a supreme state is one “day” (ie. period) of God’s action. Through Christ we know it spans his two comings. As he says to Nicodemus (Jn 3v3), it is only those who have been born again (fulfilling 36v25-27) who will see the kingdom (fulfilling 36v28-31).
            In chapter 37 God’s Spirit transports Ezekiel to a valley of bones. Their dryness shows they have been long dead. God asks if they can live to which Ezekiel affirms only God knows. Ezekiel is then told to prophesy to the bones, that God will make breath enter them and cause them to become enfleshed and alive. As Ezekiel prophesies, the bodies are re-constituted but not yet alive. He is then told to call breath to enter the slain so they live, and they come to life as a vast army. This is then explained: The bones represent dead Israelites (no doubt recalling those slain by Babylon) with a sense of this meaning that they are cut off from God’s promises (just made) of a glorious kingdom in the land. So God promises to open their graves, bring them to life by his Spirit, and settle them securely in the land (the inference of being an army), where they will know he is God (37v1-14). Verse 1 implies this is a vision. A metaphorical fulfilment in which this simply stresses there is still hope for the nation, or that looks to faithful Israelites coming spiritually alive in order to submit to Christ as king, is quite possible. However, the descriptions of life in the land (36v25, 37v22-28) these people will then enjoy, imply the final state, making a more literal fulfilment as faithful Israelites are raised from death more likely (see Jn 5v28-30). This would suggest that the full restoration of the kingdom Ezekiel has prophesied lies the others side of the resurrection (see chs 47-48).
            Ezekiel is then instructed to symbolise God uniting the northern and southern kingdoms in the land by the uniting of two sticks as one. He adds that they will be forever united under one Davidic king and shepherd, and having been cleansed, will no longer defile themselves as they had. The inference that they will be there forever with their children and children’s children under the same king, implies the eternal life of the resurrected state, and also that God’s intent for faith to be passed to each generation will have been fulfilled to some extent by this group. To them, he promises an everlasting covenant agreement, security, increase of numbers, his temple presence (see chs 40-46), and the relationship in which he is their God and they his people – and all so the nations know that God’s presence makes his people holy (ie. it sets them apart as an obedient people). This all looks to the great multitude inhabiting a new creation that is filled with the presence of God (Rev 21v22-27).

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his readiness to raise and renew his people to inhabit the kingdom. Pray that you would faithfully teach this hope to the next generation.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(332) November 28: Ezekiel 38-39 & 1 Peter 4

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note why God is going to act as these chapters predict.

To ponder:
These chapters are notoriously difficult to understand, and we should note they come as the book becomes increasingly figurative in nearing its end. Ezekiel is to set his face against a king called “Gog” of “Magog” (literally, land of Gog), who also rules over Meshech and Tubal. Most likely these three lands refer to places far north of Judah, that were known for their barbarity (see Ps 120v5-7). Through Ezekiel God declares he is against Gog and will force him to do his will with hooks, like a captured beast or monster, bringing him and his army (described in a way that stresses its greatness) to invade Judah (38v1-9). The significance of his allies is probably that they are from the extremities of the known world from Judah’s perspective. And there are 7 of them (38v2, 5-6), implying completeness. The sense may therefore be of the whole world gathering against God’s people. This is supported by the names coming from the lines of Japheth and Ham, but not Shem, from whom Israel were descended (Gen 10v2-3, 6).
            The picture is of a vast hoard covering Israel as it advances on God’s people, with God stating that Gog will devise the evil scheme in order to plunder the richness of the land, which, in context, is a sign of God’s covenant blessing on his people. The onlooking merchant nations (38v13) are also a selection from the extremities of the world, and seem to represent those seeking an opportunity to gain materially from Gog’s attack. It is stressed that the land had recovered from its devastation by Babylon, and the people now lived in safety and without protection, no doubt because they trusted the LORD to be their refuge (38v9-16). The question, then, is whether Israel will be cast from the land again, or whether God’s promise that they would dwell there forever will be kept (see 37v25-28). So we are told that God is bringing this invader so that he may show himself holy to the nations – ie. show he is set-apart in being the only true and powerful God (see 37v23).
            37v17 records God telling Gog that his prophets had for years predicted him coming against Israel. As the timing of this is a future date, this stresses the importance of Israel referring back to Ezekiel’s own prophecy here. It may also suggest that the many prophecies predicting the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests from the north were paradigmatic for a final attack by the nations of the earth. And what God predicts is that in anger, there will an earthquake that will mark his presence and cause all creatures and peoples to tremble, and he will bring a sword against Gog in the form of causing his troops to kill one-another. He will also execute judgement on him and the troops of the nations with him, with plague, bloodshed, rain, hail and sulphur. These are pictures of judgement, but may be literal as sulphur was for Sodom and Gomorrah. The point is that God’s people don’t need to lift a finger, God fights for them, and by this means makes known to the nations that he is the LORD (37v18-23).
            Revelation 20v8-9 teaches this is fulfilled as the nations of the earth are gathered against God’s people by Satan, just before the final judgement. Some see this preceded by a millennium in which the people enjoy a secure and righteous life with Christ, fulfilling Ezekiel’s words in 37v15-28. The alternative would be to see Ezekiel’s description of life in the land as fulfilled in the church, as Christians anticipate the eternal state in their fellowship. Gog’s invasion would then imply a final great persecution of the church. However, we have seen hints that the account is figurative. So it could simply refer to God’s ultimate protection of his people from such threats whenever they come after the return from exile (as Rom 8v35-39). This would mean the events of chapter 38 don’t follow chronologically from those of chapter 37.
            God continues reiterating that he is against Gog, and will drag him against Israel only to defeat him, causing his army to be food for animals, and even sending fire against those who live safely in Magog and haven’t engaged in the battle. It’s probably a picture of his judging all. By this means he will cause his name no longer to be profaned, as Israel and the nations know come to know that it is holy – ie. that he is set-apart from all others (39v1-8). The picture of Israel using their enemy’s weapons as fuel for 7 years, stresses God’s supremacy in actually using the invasion for the good of his people, who are able to plunder the army (39v9-10).
            39v11-16 describes how Israel will carefully ensure all the slain are buried east of the Mediterranean sea in Israel, so that the land is cleansed. They will complete the work in 7 months, but then begin a search for any bodies that have been missed, ensuring they are buried too. The sheer amount of bodies is highlighted, as the mound will hinder travellers. But the focus seems to be on the fact that nothing of these people will remain in Israel. This is further stressed by the burial being preceded by scavenging animals feasting on the bodies as they lie on the ground (39v17-20, see 39v4). Ezekiel is to call them as the feast is portrayed as one God has provided, with the army being a sacrifice to him, like the fellowship offering the people would feast on as a sign that through the penalty for sin being paid they are at peace with God. This may be intended to stress the supreme fellowship the people will enjoy now the unbelieving world has been punished for its sin. However, the animals are invited to eat the fat and blood which was usually reserved for God (Lev 3v16-17). This emphasizes both how utterly destroyed the enemy are, and how degraded in this destruction – as will be the case with hell.
            We are told that the day God is glorified in this defeat of Gog, will be a memorial – so forever remembered (39v13). And by this means God will display his glory (his excellence) to the nations, and from then on Israel will know he is the LORD. This has been God’s intent throughout. When Israel went into exile, the nations assumed this was because their God had rejected them or was unable to protect them. But now he has displayed his faithfulness in defeating the greatest army, the nations will know that the exile could not have been for these reasons, but must have been because the people’s sin caused God to hide his face and hand them over to their enemies (39v21-24). So God declares he will bring the exiles back from their captivity, have compassion on them, and act in passionate concern for that his name is seen as holy. It is uncertain whether 39v26 refers to Israel forgetting or bearing their shame when in the land, but the latter has been stressed previously (36v31). Whatever the case, when they are in the land, God will show himself holy to the nations through what he has done in gathering them, and pouring out his Spirit so that they will follow his law and therefore receive his blessing (see 36v24-32). Then Israel will certainly know he is their God (39v25-29).
            Whatever our uncertainties, the key point throughout is that faithful Israelites, who after Christ are marked out by the fact they have become his followers, can be sure that God will never turn against them as his people (nor against Gentiles, who have joined them in following Christ). Their inheritance is therefore certain. They will never be ultimately overcome by the forces of evil. And when God judges the world and raises them to inhabit it, the world will see that their exile (and any subsequent trial Jews or now Christians might suffer) was not because of the unfaithfulness or inability of their God. The prophecy would therefore have caused the exiles to keep hoping in the LORD, as it would those who returned to the land, when oppressed by Persia, Greece and Rome. And it should cause us to do the same as we face oppression too.
           
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he has defeated evil through the cross and so this final deliverance of his people is certain. Pray that those who are persecuted would be encouraged by it.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(333) November 29: Ezekiel 40 & 1 Peter 5

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note how God’s holiness and inapproachability is stressed.

To ponder:
As usual a date is given (40v1). It could be significant. The 25 years is half the cycle to the Jubilee year, signifying renewal. The date and month recalls the Exodus (Ex 12v12), and the 14 (2x7) years may look to two complete periods until the setting up of the temple to be described. In a vision Ezekiel is taken to Jerusalem, which he views from a mountain. His note that the buildings looked like a city reminds us this is a vision, and that there is something different from the actual Jerusalem. We should not therefore presume what we read are instructions for a literal temple that must be built. Most likely, God is using the idea of the temple to portray truth about him coming to dwell with his people as he did in the previous temple. This is rather like his using a detailed image of a new city of Jerusalem (with dimensions) in Revelation, to portray truth about the bride of Christ which is the people of God (Rev 21v1-21).
            Ezekiel first sees a man (as chapter 8) whose bronze-like appearance resonates with the creatures and God in chapter 1 (1v7, 27). He was standing at the entrance to the city with tools needed for measurement. He tells Ezekiel to listen and pay attention, as that is why he is there – and that he is to tell Israel everything (40v1-4).
            Ezekiel then sees a wall enclosing the whole temple complex like a wall around a city. The man measures it as ten feet high and ten foot thick – perhaps suggesting it is impenetrable. He then goes to the gate facing east – the direction of sunrise and so salvation – measuring the threshold at 10 feet deep. This threshold leads into the gateway itself, which consists of a passage leading into the outer court (40v1-16, see diagram here). It has three square recesses on either side, which were probably for guards, implying the temple is secure and only those who should enter could enter. At the end of the passage was a roomy sort of porch, which led into the outer court. All in all, the gateway was 25 cubits (43 feet) wide and 50 (86 feet) long. This symmetry, which will find throughout the account, probably signifies the exact perfection of God’s plan for his people, and the utter holiness and order that accompanies his presence. The palm tree decoration implies the temple is like a mini-Eden and a picture of the new creation to come.
            The man led Ezekiel into the outer court, which had a pavement around its perimeter that was as wide as the gateways, stretching between them. (A diagram of the whole temple can be seen here). Thirty rooms were built into the wall around the outer court, opening onto this pavement. They were probably for worshippers or Levites who served in the temple. We’re told that there were identical gates on the north and south sides of the outer court too, all three gates having 7 steps leading up to them, the number of completeness and perfection. Across the outer court from each gate was a corresponding gate to the inner court. The distance across the outer court to the inner court was a hundred cubits (172 feet), the same distance as the length of the outer and inner gates combined. The inner gates were identical to the outer gates, except that they were a mirror image of them, with the porch being the first part you enter from the outer court. They also had 8 steps leading up to them, rather than 7 (40v17-36). The sense in all this detail is that you would ascend two stories, through two sets of guards, and with increasing difficulty, to where God was especially present. This stresses the increased degrees of holiness in coming closer to God, and so his inapproachability too.
            Because of this, a room was at the porch entrance of each inner gateway where burnt offerings were washed (40v37-43). There is then a description of twelve tables that seem to be in the porch of each gateway too, eight on which offerings were slaughtered, and four on which the implements used were kept. It may be some were also hung on the hooks on the wall. In seeing this portrayal of the temple as figurative of God’s future presence with his people that is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, we should note that this will involve no animal sacrifice as this has been superseded by Christ’s own sacrifice. Rather, we should understand this description as using concepts that would have been familiar to the Israelites, to make the point that sufficient means of atonement would then be instituted to ensure God’s presence could remain with his people. The “twelve” tables in particular stress that what is instituted is sufficient for all Israel (the twelve tribes). We now understand that all this was ultimately achieved in the cross.
            Moving through the inner gate we come to the inner court, seeing two rooms adjacent to the north and south inner gates respectively (40v44-47). The former was for priests overseeing the general running of the temple that is in the centre of the complex, and perhaps guarding it too. The latter was for priests in charge of and perhaps guarding the altar. The note that these are only those qualified to draw that close to minister before God again stresses his holy purity. The inner court was measured as a hundred cubits square, corresponding with previous measurements. And it is noted that the altar was in front of the temple, as sacrifice was the only means one could approach the LORD.
           
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for achieving a way for us to approach him through Christ. Pray that you would better appreciate his holiness, and how necessary the cross was.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(334) November 30: Ezekiel 41-42 & 2 Peter 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note consider what the recording of the temple’s design is intended to portray.

To ponder:
From 40v49 onwards we are taken to the temple itself in the middle of the temple complex. The measurements are significant numbers – multiples of 10 (symbolising many), multiples of 7 (symbolising perfection or completeness), 12 (symbolising Israel) and 3 (another number of completeness). The temple essential consists of the outer and inner sanctuaries. Taking Ezekiel with him, the man first measures the portico (porch), then the outer sanctuary, followed by the inner one – the most holy place, which was half the size of the outer sanctuary. The decreasing size of entrances towards the inner sanctuary stresses its holiness and exclusivity. We should only the man enters it, as it is forbidden for any human but the High Priest. The man must therefore be either a representation of God himself or an angel. Next he measured the temple wall and the thirty side rooms on each of three levels, along the north, south and west sides. These are probably store rooms for equipment, tithes and offerings. The rooms on each successive level get wider. And they could be accessed from the area around the temple, by staircases on the north and south sides. (You can see a plan of the temple here). Around the temple was a raised paved area, and then an open area stretching to the priests rooms to the north and south. To the west, there was a large building, perhaps also for storage. In terms of overall measurements, the length of the temple, of the yard and building to its west, and the breadth of that building and the inner court were all 100 cubits. Such detail seems strange to us, but it all symbolised the perfection of the temple itself. And the desire to describe and meditate on it should be likened to our desire to eagerly show pictures of a tour we had around Buckingham Palace. It should evoke wonder that God himself would actually return and live amongst his people. (All the above explains 40v48-49v14). (Compare its size with the temple of Solomon and the temple built later by Herod here).
           It seems the inner walls, porches and thresholds of the temple were covered with wood, much of which was covered with carved cherubim and palm trees – again alluding to Eden and stressing the presence of God (see Gen 3v24). The cherubim only had two (rather than four, chapter 1) faces, perhaps because of the demands of two dimensional art. They were of a man and a lion, the most noble of God’s creatures. In the outer sanctuary, in front of the doors leading into the most holy place, was a wooden altar-like table. This was called “the table that is before the LORD,” but was the table of presence from the original temple, on which twelve bread cakes were put ever Sabbath as a reminder that God’s was the people’s provider. Both sanctuaries had double doors, but only those of the outer sanctuary were carved with cherubim and palm trees (49v15-26).
            42v1-14 describes the priests’ rooms on the north and south of the inner court, opening onto the temple courtyard, facing north and south respectively. They are identical, being perfect rectangles (100x50 cubits) within a perfect square, again stressing symmetry. Each side included two sets of buildings. One consisting of changing rooms and rooms for eating and storing offerings. The other was a three story block. The dimensions are similar to those used elsewhere. And the focus stresses how sacred these places are because of their purpose and vicinity to the temple itself. This is supported by the fact that the priests must leave their garments before they go from the inner to outer court, because they are holy in having been so close to God. The sense is that they would otherwise spread holiness to the people, which could prove problematic if the people were not consecrated to God, as his wrath might then break out at their sin - as when Uzzah was struck down for coming into contact with the holy ark (see 2 Sam 6v7).
            Finally, the man takes Ezekiel outside via the east gate and measures the whole complex (42v15-19). It is surrounded by a wall in a perfect square of 500 cubit (850 feet) sides. 42v20 highlights the purpose of the wall. It is to separate the holy from the common. In other words, not only does this temple symbolise God’s presence with his people, but true and untainted worship being offered him, in which his regulations are kept, he is revered by bringing nothing unseemly close to him, and in which his dwelling place is not defiled by sin (contrast 22v26). We might consider the beauty of its design speaking of the final beauty of the church as the temple of the Holy Spirit, or the new creation that God’s glory will one day fill. Both are holy and set-apart, and in both, worship that is true, obedient, reverent and undefiled is to be offered.
                       
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his beauty and majesty pictured in some way by the architectural beauty and majesty of this temple-palace. Pray that you would offer worship with your lips and life that is fitting to him.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(335) December 1: Ezekiel 43 & 2 Peter 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note why God says he has revealed all these details to Ezekiel.

To ponder:
Ezekiel is now brought to the gate facing east, from where he sees God’s glory coming. We should note east is the place of Eden, of the dawn and so of hope, but also where Babylon is situated, suggesting he may be returning from being amongst the exiles. This is a reversal of the direction in which he left (11v19, 23) and enables him to go straight ahead into the temple. The awesomeness of his presence is stressed in the roar of his voice – which is to be obeyed, and the brilliance of his glory – so brilliant that lights the land as it goes, perhaps implying how it will one day transform it. We’re reminded this is a vision, and the sight of God’s glory is the same as that in chapter 1 (43v1-4). Having seen God enter the east facing gate of the temple, the Spirit takes Ezekiel to the inner court where he sees the temple filled with God’s glory – confirming he is now in residence, as in the days of Solomon (43v5, 1 Kgs 8v10-11). It suggests the potential of a new golden era. 
            We should note here the delight this vision would have brought to the exiles. Solomon’s temple had been defiled and then destroyed, and God had abandoned Jersusalem. Yet in this vision, the people are reassured that God will return to the city and worship will begin again in a temple there, patterned in some way on this vision.
            Ezekiel then hears someone speaking from within the temple. The note that the man is beside him suggests it is not him and he is not divine. Rather, it is God himself, who declares the temple is the place of his throne and feet – implying dominion. He states he will live amongst the Israelites forever, and that they and their kings will never again defile his name with their idolatry. 43v8 implies that the kings either lived in some way within the previous temple complex or were buried there. Either way, it showed no recognition of the need for the common to be separated from the holy (as 42v20), and so displayed an irreverence and lack of concern for the LORD that provoked him to destroy them in anger. At this point God declares that Israel should put away their idols, again, promises that he will then live with them forever. He then tells Ezekiel to write down and describe what he has seem for the people, detailing the temple, and especially its exits, entrances, regulations and laws. He states he wants Ezekiel to do this for two reasons: First, to make the people ashamed of their sins. Second, so that they will be faithful to its design and regulations (43v9-11).
            This is all particularly instructive in how we understand the whole vision. 37v15-28 predicted Israel as a cleansed nation united under a Davidic king, that would no longer commit idolatry, and that would live forever in the land with God’s “dwelling-place” with them (37v27). In the light of this, the original recipients of Ezekiel’s temple vision must have understood it to be the “dwelling-place” that would be central to this future kingdom. We should therefore view it as a portrayal, using concepts that were understandable to them, of the ideal temple and worship that would be central to that coming order, just as God’s presence and right worship at the temple had always been necessary for Israel to flourish as a nation. In particular, the vision is intended to remind the people just how holy God is, and just how serious their idolatry was in previously failing to respect that holiness through disregarding the set-apartedness of the temple and the regulations that protected that (see chapter 8). To this end, the regulations for this temple stress areas whether there was previously specific compromise, and even update prior laws accordingly. This concern is confirmed by God’s statement that the key law or instruction about the temple is that the area around it is to be most holy (43v12). In other words, no-one who is not qualified and fit to do so, is to come close.
            To be “faithful” to the temple’s design and regulations then, may have meant that the returning Israelites should have established temple worship according to Ezekiel’s blueprint as they prepared for God to establish his everlasting kingdom. The detail throughout certainly implies this. In which case, the failure to institute these things was yet another sign of their sin, and so of the fact that that kingdom was some time off, and that God would have to do what they could not do for themselves. However, being “faithful” to what Ezekiel saw could equally mean that just as their (and our) perception of God should be faithful to Ezekiel’s vision in chapter 1, without viewing that vision literally, so their (and our) worship should be faithful to this vision in a similar way. This enables it to apply at numerous levels depending on one’s place in salvation history as God progressively fulfils his promise of chapter 37. For the Israelites in Ezekiel’s day, it speaks of how they cannot expect God’s presence to remain with them and fulfil that promise, unless they conduct the worship of any future temple in purity, as instructed. For us, it speaks of how, when Israel failed to do exactly that, God enabled his presence to be permanently present and ensured true worship in and through Christ. We are therefore reminded that we cannot serve God in the church or draw close to him in heaven, unless we are fully cleansed and set-apart as a holy priesthood through Christ’s blood (Heb 9v11-10v25).
            In 43v13-27 God describes the temple’s altar to Ezekiel, together with the regulations for offerings. He even commands him to give a bull as a sin offering for the priests and purify the altar over seven days, getting the priests make offerings too. God’s declaration “then I will accept you” (43v27) implies the worship of the temple is then able to commence so that he can accept the people despite their sin. This section supports the less literal view of the temple. 1v1-2 suggest Ezekiel may have been born around 622BC (1v1-2), whereas the second temple in Jerusalem was completed and dedicated in 516BC with no mention of Ezekiel (Ezra 6v13-22). It seems that he is therefore being commanded to reinstitute Israel’s temple worship in his vision, as if he were there. This may be a sort of symbolic act that is intended to foretell the coming reality rather like when he was commanded to act out the siege of Jerusalem (see chapter 4). Alternatively, God may be addressing Ezekiel as a representative of the people and what they are to do to institute the temple’s worship.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for fully cleansing us through Christ so that we can draw near to him. Pray you would offer yourself in service reverently, recognizing his holiness.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(336) December 2: Ezekiel 44-46 & 2 Peter 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note what principles lie behind the regulations.

To ponder:
The man now takes Ezekiel to the entrance to the temple – ie. the outer room. The door is shut and to remain shut because God has entered. In context, it seems this is to ensure no-one goes in and so defiles the place of God’s presence. Only the “prince” could, and he only to the outer room and in order to eat in God’s presence – presumably having made a sacrifice. (Priests could enter too, v16). Next Ezekiel is taken to the north gate of the inner court from which he sees God’s glory in the temple and falls face down, stressing the reverence with which the reality of God’s presence should be considered (44v1-4). God then tells Ezekiel to listen carefully to the regulations he is about to give regarding the entrance and exits. These are the regulations the people are to follow (see 43v11). First, where the Israelites rebelliously allowed foreigners in and permitted them to carry out the priests’ duties, desecrating the temple, no foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh is now to enter. The point is that those who can draw close to God must be from amongst his people, and truly love him. Second, the Levites who committed idolatry are required to bear the consequences of their sin. So, they may serve in the temple, having charge of the gates (caring for and guarding them) and slaughtering offerings, but are not allowed to serve as priests or come near the holy things or most holy offerings. This downgraded their duties, meaning that they could only stand before the people and not before the LORD. The sense is that worship in the new order will protect against the compromises of the past, to ensure they are not repeated. Third, only the descendents of Zadok who were faithful in their duties when Israel went astray are to stand before God offering sacrifices in the sanctuary (44v5-16). The point is that order is re-established to the temple, with only those qualified able to draw close to God.
            Regulations for the clothes, hair and marital allowances of the priests follow that are similar to those in the law (44v17-27, Lev 21v1-9). The point is that they are to teach the difference between the holy and common, helping the people distinguish between clean and unclean. And they do this in part by their own set-apartedness. They are to judge disputes, keep God’s laws and feasts, and regulations about going near dead bodies. It all stresses that God is so holy that those who serve him up close must be fit to do so, ensuring nothing merely normal (common) or imperfect and so unacceptable (unclean) is allowed in his near presence. This highlights just what Christ has achieved in making us holy and clean.
            Next God declares he is to be the priest’s inheritance, providing for them from the offerings and whatever is devoted to God. So they are not to be given any inheritance in the land. The best of the people’s firstfruits are to be theirs, which will bring blessing on the people’s households. Yet the priests are not to eat what will make them unclean (44v28-31).
            45v1-8 records how a section of the land is to be kept as a sacred space. In the center is to be the sanctuary/temple with an area of open land around it. The wider area is for the priests and Levites who serve at the temple to live in. Alongside this will be a section of land for the city, and so for all Israel to live in. And adjacent to the sacred space and city land will be land given to the princes. It is added that they will no longer oppress the people but allow them to posses the land according to their tribes. The sense is that they will no longer be taking the people’s land to themselves. What follows is an exhortation for the princes to give up violence and oppression in order to do what is just and right, engage in honest commerce. It seems the outline of the temple and land for the new order is expected to be a motivation for the rebellious princes to make a new start of their practices (45v9-12). Knowing we are destined to be glorified should be its own motivation to us, to live accordingly in the present.
            45v13-17 record the princes’ responsibility to provide the offerings to atone for Israel’s sins at the feasts, but notes that the people are to provide what is necessary for them to do this. What this entails for New Year’s Day (atoning for the temple and altar), Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles follows (45v18-25). All this highlights the king’s responsibility for worship, looking to Christ giving himself to atone for his people’s sins.
            Chapter 46 includes further regulations. Only on the Sabbath and day of the new moon is the eastern inner court gate to be open. On these days the prince would enter from the outside, present his offerings at the gatepost as detailed, worship at the threshold in sight of the sanctuary and then leave. Critically, he is not permitted to enter the sanctuary itself. On these days the people are also permitted to come up to the entrance to the gateway, standing just outside it in the outer court (46v1-8, see here). 46v9-10 explain that there is to be an orderly flow of worshippers, including the prince, from the north gate to the south or vice-versa. No doubt, this too expresses something of the order that should mark worship. The offerings the prince must offer at festivals and feasts is then outlined, noting they are to be offered as his offering on the Sabbath. The daily morning sacrifice is then detailed – a reminder of the need of constant atonement if God is to dwell amongst a sinful people (46v11-15).
            Regulations on property given by the prince (from his inheritance) to his sons or to servants follow (46v16-18). The former belongs to his descendents and so should be passed on. The latter can be kept, but must be returned at the year of freedom (probably Jubilee, Lev 25v10-13). The prince is not to take property from the people for his sons. The point is that whatever God has allotted as an inheritance for the princes or the people should be maintained. It all reminds us that the land, indeed, the earth, is the LORD’s. It reassures us too, that he will ensure we receive our inheritance.
            Next the angelic man took Ezekiel to the priests’ sacred rooms facing north, to see where the sin and guilt offerings would be cooked and the grain offering baked. He then took him around the outer court, where Ezekiel saw an enclosed rectangular court in each corner. The man explained that they were kitchen’s for cooking the people’s sacrifices (46v19-24). As with the layout of the land (above) we see order highlighted again. But we also see God’s concern to keep the holy and common apart, lest by coming into contact with the holy, God’s wrath breaks out against the people (46v20). Yet, what is most striking is God’s grace in welcoming people to his table to eat with him – something pictured in the Lord’s Supper, and that looks to the heavenly banquet.
            Throughout this section we see the assumption that rather than being a spiritual picture of something that will mark a perfect future kingdom, Ezekiel’s vision presupposes the people are still sinful and so seems intended for those returning from exile. Protections are not only put in to keep the people from holy things, but reminders are needed so foreigners are not again brought into the temple and the prince refrains from oppressing his people. Indeed, rather than being a messianic figure, the prince is severely limited in the degree to which he can approach God, having to stop at the gate to the sanctuary, and so being third in importance behind the priests and Levites.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his gift of Christ who offers himself as the sufficient sacrifice for sin. Pray that the church would shape its worship in a way that acknowledges the holiness of God.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.

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(337) December 3: Ezekiel 47-48 & 1 John 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note how God’s grace is necessary for the fulfilment of each part.

To ponder:
Ezekiel is now returned to the entrance to the temple, where he sees a small stream of water coming out of the south side of the threshold and heading east, south of the altar and then out of the temple just south of the east facing outer gate (47v1-2). It seems Ezekiel exits via the north gate as the eastern one was closed. The meaning of the water flowing on the south side is unclear. But it flows towards the place of exile, perhaps symbolic of God’s blessing being accessible to those in Babylon, and paradigmatic of it being accessible to all exiled from his presence because of sin. In what follows, the man travels eastward measuring the water’s depth every 1500 feet, as it gets deeper and deeper until it becomes an un-crossable river (47v1-6). With no tributaries causing this, we’re seeing that this is simply due to its source in the temple – signifying the abundance of blessing God pours out. The water has two results: It causes trees to grow on its banks that will never wither, and with leaves that bring healing; and it makes the salt water of the Dead Sea fresh, enabling swarms of living creatures to live along it and in it.
            The symbolism is echoed by other prophets, and cautions us against reading the rest of the vision too literally. But nor should we be too quick to spiritualize it. In reality, the picture is of God bringing not both biological and spiritual life to that which is barren. First and foremost it would have been understood to promise the returning exiles that God is well able to renew them so that they lovingly worship and obey him, centred on their temple, and experience the covenant blessing on the land promised in Deuteronomy 28-30. It therefore also looks to that renewal of Israel (and others) by his Holy Spirit through Christ (as 36v24-27), and looks further ahead to the new creation, in which they will live forever in a world of abundance, and free from all sickness and death (Rev 22v1-5). We should remember too, that Jesus stood up in the temple and called all to come to him and drink, promising that streams of living water would then flow from them. John tells us this was a reference to the Holy Spirit (Jn 7v37-39). So Ezekiel’s vision is fulfilled in Jesus as the true temple-dwelling of God, from whom the blessing of God’s Spirit comes to those of all nations, who then themselves become a temple-dwelling of God, from which that blessing flows to others as they share the gospel.
            The man also tells Ezekiel that the swamps and marshes of the land will still be left for salt (47v11). This could be a practical act of provision, in which God leaves sufficient salt for the people to use for seasoning and preserving food. However, it may imply a set place apart from the place of God’s blessing, where curse is still experienced.
            47v13-48v29 records the division of the land, but not just for Judah, for the northern kingdom too (two portions are to be given to Joseph because his two sons were originally given a tribe’s portion each). This is significant as the northern tribes no longer existed in any definitive form in Ezekiel’s day, having been scattered by Assyria in 722BC. God cannot therefore be talking about a literal proportioning of the land to each tribe. He is predicting the reunification of the nation in Christ, incorporating returning exiles from Judah and any descended from the north who might join them, as well as those from other nations too. It is just this that we see in the book of Acts. And the man tells Ezekiel that the latter group in particular are to be considered as equal as native-born Israelites, sharing equally in the inheritance. It is not impossible that if the new creation is a renewed heavens and earth rather than a different one, Israelites who owned a true faith in Christ might receive the land as specified. But it seems more likely that Ezekiel’s vision is using the concepts familiar to the people in his day to stress that the nation will be united and receive just the inheritance God has determined for them, whatever form that might take (as 1 Pet 1v3-9). Indeed, Jesus teaches the meek will inherit the whole earth. We should be much encouraged.
            48v8-14 repeats earlier teaching about the portion of the land set-apart for the sanctuary and priests and Levites, which must not pass hands, as God has apportioned it. 48v15-20 then describes the land to be given to the city, and as land to supply food for those who work there. 48v21-22 specifies the land that would be the special portion of the prince. By including this earlier material here, we must recognise that the earlier vision of the temple’s design, those who served in it, and the segmenting of the land around it, has an ultimate symbolic reference in terms of what is received through the gospel of Christ, even if it also referred to the ideal the people should have aspired to when they first returned from Babylon.
            Finally, we read of how the gates to the city will be named after the tribes of Israel, and the city itself be a square of 4500 cubits on each side (about 1.5 miles). This is far smaller than the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21, but the note about the gates is the same (Rev 21v12). The point in Ezekiel is that the city represents the entirety of God’s people. And critical is its name: “The LORD is there.” This is the key thrust of Ezekiel’s vision and his entire message of hope. God will return to his people, and his presence is what will guarantee the fulfilment of his promises. We should marvel that just as the New Jerusalem is the bride of Christ (Rev 21v9-10), this title now refers to the church, guaranteeing all God’s promises to us.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his presence with his people by his Holy Spirit. Pray that you would be active in sharing the gospel so that this blessing might come to others.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further: Ezekiel’s vision
The vision stretching from chapters 40-48 is extremely hard to understand and commentators differ hugely on what to make of it. Any thoughts we have must therefore be very tentative. But from what we have studied, it seems to work on two key levels: First, we mustn’t forget the impact it would have had on the exiles. To them it would probably have been understood to be an idealistic picture of what they should aspire to as they re-populate the land and re-establish worship. It’s portrayal of these things as actually happening, would have given them confidence that by these things God would at some time bring the Davidic king, renew them and the land, and establish them as a united eternal kingdom with his temple-presence central to that (37v22-28). Second, whereas the people would not have known exactly how these things would be achieved, in the light of Christ, we must read the vision through him, and so understand it as also picturing God dwelling amongst, renewing and uniting his people as this eternal kingdom through Christ and in the church. Whereas the detail about the offerings, priests and Levites would have applied directly to the vision’s first fulfilment, these things would apply to the second only in affirming the church as an entity where lives are offered to God, and all his people serve the church according to his designation.


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