Random Studies in Ezekiel, Part 4

Right after God called Ezekiel to be a prophet, the Lord sequestered Ezekiel in his house and, amazingly, the newly minted prophet was not allowed to speak a word:

Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: “Go, shut yourself inside your house. And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people. I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, though they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 3:24 – 26 | NIV84)

What’s the deal with that? Why would God call Ezekiel to speak His Word, yet shut him up and shut him away from the people he was supposed to preach to? This section is really still part of Ezekiel’s call from his role as a priest to his new role as a prophet. It would be a difficult transition for the son of man to make. As a priest, Ezekiel would have had a series to duties to perform on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. His was a ministry of repetition. But that would all change. Now, Ezekiel would have to learn how to continually submit to the God’s Word. The prophetic ministry was not a repetitive one; from now on, he would never act on his own but would only appear in public when God wanted him to and he would only speak those words God moved him to say. And lastly, he lost the ability to speak.

Reading that paragraph, we realize that there is a co-operation between God and man going on here. Ezekiel was told by God to seclude himself in the house, and Ezekiel complied. He willingly went along with the strange request. But then notice the use of the word “they.” Somebody will tie Ezekiel up. The “they” likely refers to the prophet’s family or friends. Being bound symbolized Ezekiel’s lifelong commitment to his new ministry. And then the Lord stopped Ezekiel from speaking.

• Ezekiel went along with God’s command;
• Ezekiel asked others to tie him up;
• God miraculously shut Ezekiel up.

The work of the Lord involves a co-operation between all the parties involved. Then there’s this fascinating verse that is very telling:

But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ Whoever will listen let him listen, and whoever will refuse let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 3:27 | NIV84)

Take note of the doctrine of personal responsibility. People are free to accept the word of the Lord or not. God sends out the invitations, but it’s entirely up to those who received the invitation to open it up and accept it or not. God never forces anybody to do anything.

What happened to Ezekiel here is not unimportant for Christians to take notice of and take to heart. We as Christians, even though we know God’s way is the only way, have NO right on our own to criticize or condemn or pass judgment on anybody. We cannot set the standards for people to meet. That’s not our job. Rebuke and reproof are what the Lord does. It is only when people are obviously violating the will of God, and only when the Lord allows us, that we are permitted to speak out for Him against them. To speak up and be critical of others on our own may result in our reputations or even the reputation of the faith being mocked or derided. But if God calls us to speak out against an individual or even an entire culture, then we have no choice. However, everything we do or say must always be on His terms, not ours, and under His authority, not ours.

God in control

From the very beginning of his new ministry, Ezekiel needed to realize that he was no longer calling the shots in his life. God was.

The hand of the LORD was upon me there, and he said to me, “Get up and go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you.” (Ezekiel 3:22 | NIV84)

In that “plain” or valley, Ezekiel once again witnessed the glory of the Lord that had so moved him back in chapter one. He knew that he was in the very presence of the Lord, and once more we read this:

Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. (Ezekiel 3:24 | NIV84)

We read that phrase, “the Spirit came into me,” numerous times in this book, and it suggests that Ezekiel did not enjoy what all Christians enjoy: The abiding presence of the Lord in our lives. The Holy Spirit came and went with Ezekiel but since Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and abides in the believer forever.

Also, notice the movement in this verse. Ezekiel was raised to his feet. We in the West view that movement differently than those who live in the East. For a king to invite a subject to stand in his presence meant that he had been accepted and that king was going to “do business” with him.

Prophecy in drama

Ezekiel builds a model!

Chapters 4 – 24 record the opening prophetic salvo of Ezekiel, and it’s directed at Jerusalem. Even though he’s in Babylon, there was free communication between where Ezekiel was and his old home town. At the time the events of these chapters occurred, Jerusalem was still standing; it would be a few years before Nebuchadnezzar rolled in to destroy it in 586 BC. In these prophecies – and they are all prophecies even though they may not look it – are many strange symbolic actions, as well as sermons, all delivered in the Name of God. In these twenty chapters are riddles, allegories, and pantomimes, all used as vehicles for the Word of God.

The first prophecy was a clay model of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege. Yes, a clay model.

Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 4:1 – 3 | NIV84)

Now, you and I might find this a little odd. Here’s Ezekiel, prophet of God, playing with models. But to the people of the ancient near and middle east, acting out a message was not unusual. Theology of our time has been heavily influenced by many centuries of Plato’s influence of emphasizing highly abstract ideas over concrete actions, like the ones we see Ezekiel taking. Fortunately for us, God was not influenced by Plato. He came to us concretely in the Person of Christ and died on a real Roman cross and rose actually from the grave and ascended literally to Heaven and announced definitely that He would return visibly.

Here, Ezekiel is doing essentially the same thing with his little model. Think of the old Claymation TV shows and you’ll have an idea of what was going on here. Ezekiel probably built this large model in front of his house in the exile village of Tel-Abib. The exiles would have seen it as they passed by and the prophet would have explained what the model represented: The destruction of Jerusalem and the fact that sin cannot go unpunished. That’s really the big picture here; the sins of the city (the sins of the people of Jerusalem) were seen by God, committed against God, and therefore God would deal with those rebellious people. The sheer wickedness of Jerusalem, if you can imagine, didn’t abate with the first exile. It got worse:

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as Jehoiakim had done. It was because of the LORD’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence. (2 Kings 25:18 – 20 | NIV84)

None of what was about to happen to Jerusalem as portrayed by Ezekiel and his model should have come as a surprise to the exiles or the people who heard about it back home. It was promised by God of they dared broke His covenant.

They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the LORD your God is giving you. Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you. Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities. The most gentle and sensitive woman among you—so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot—will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For she intends to eat them secretly during the siege and in the distress that your enemy will inflict on you in your cities. (Deuteronomy 25:52 – 57 | NIV84)

As Christians, we are not Israel. We aren’t the people whom Ezekiel had in mind when he built his tabletop model. But there are two verses in the New Testament that make it imperative we pay heed to Ezekiel’s words to his people:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature d will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7, 8 | NIV84)

That’s right. For us, our enemy isn’t Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar, but the wages of sin – death. Our siege is accomplished by yielding to sin, trapping us. But in our case, we have God’s armor protecting us and He Himself is a strong refuge against it. And, unlike the iron plate that separated Ezekiel from this model of Jerusalem, God will never separate Himself from us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35 – 39 | NIV84)

Ezekiel bears their sin

If you thought building a model was odd behavior for a serious, grown man to engage in, how about this:

Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So, for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel. “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.” (Ezekiel 4:4 – 8 | NIV84)

Again, this a drama was acted out to give the people a visual representation of God’s Word. This was a slow, long theatrical prophecy lasting a total of 430 days, 390 of those days representing 390 years of the Northern Kingdom’s punishment for their sin and rebellion and 40 days representing 40 years of Judah’s punishment for their sin. The total number of years – 430 – is significant for a couple of reasons. First, historically, 430 years is the length of time that the Israelites were held in Egypt (Exodus 12:40).

Second, the total of 430 years of punishment for sin looks forward, and is therefore prophetic in nature. It’s a fact that all numbering and dating in the book of Ezekiel begins with the captivity of Jehoiachin in 597 BC; 597 BC is like ground zero for all the dates in Ezekiel. When we number forward 430 years from 597 BC we get to 167 BC (approximately), which is the year the Maccabean revolt began and the Jews finally got back control of the Promised Land – Canaan; for the first time since 597 BC.

Dates and numbers are interesting, but there is a much deeper significance here. By the siege and fall of Jerusalem, both Israel and Judah will be punished for their years of the rebellion and stubbornness. Ezekiel, lying on his side, is the one bearing their sins symbolically, in anticipation of the time when another Son of Man – the divine Son of Man – comes to bear the sins of many on the Cross. Here is a slight glimmer of the vicarious, substitutionary suffering of Jesus Christ.

 

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