Posts Tagged 'exile'

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.

 

Be’s of the Bible, Part 6

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There are many “be’s” in the Bible. When the Lord uses a “be,” it’s important to pay attention to what He’s saying. As God uses “be” in the Bible, He’s never making a suggestion; He’s issuing a command. We’re looking at a number of the “Be’s in Scripture,” and so far, here are the ones we’ve covered:

• Be Holy (because God is holy), 1 Peter 1:15, 16
• Be Perfect (or be mature), 2 Corinthians 13:11
• Be Still (and let God work), Psalm 46:10
• Be Sober (and be alert, keeping your eyes open), 1 Peter 5:8
• Be Faithful (no matter what), Revelation 2:10

Our sixth “Be” is found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah –

Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house. (Isaiah 52:11 TNIV)

A verse like that demands some context because it’s impossible to know what’s going on behind it or what prompted it. So let’s consider some context, both historical and spiritually.

Context: Historical and spiritual

There is an old saying that goes like this:

God helps those who help themselves.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t Winston Churchill who coined that phrase, although he probably did say it. It was Benjamin Franklin and, as far as the phrase goes, it’s partly true and partly false. A lot of people over on the Reformed side of the church get incensed when they hear somebody say, “God helps those who help themselves.” As far as Reformers are concerned, God instigates everything in the lives of people; people don’t do anything to merit the movement of God’s hand. They’re not altogether wrong about that. In terms of salvation, man does absolutely nothing to earn it or get it. Sinful man doesn’t wake up and decide today is the day to get saved. Salvation isn’t a matter of sinful man seeking God. It’s God going to the endth degree to draw sinful man to himself. And even when a sinful person appears to respond to God’s drawing power, it’s really God working in that person’s heart and soul, enabling him to respond.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9 TNIV)

So, we nod in the direction of the Reformers. They’re right when they that “God helps those who help themselves” is wrong when it comes to salvation. But after salvation, all bets are off. On that, the other side of the church is right. Once a person is saved, many – though admittedly not all – of God’s promises and blessings hinge on His people doing something to merit them. It’s hard to get by a verse like this –

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7, 8 TNIV)

Make no mistake about it: God is always ready to give to His people exactly what they need and what He has promised to them. But God wants His people to – at the very least – ask and stretch out their hands to receive. Christians who are so doubtful or apathetic receive nothing from the Lord directly and their Christian experience is disappointing and frustrating.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12 TNIV)

The words and phrases “fight” and “take hold” are not passive phrases! And living the Christian life is not supposed to be a passive existence. This is something a great many Christians don’t understand; they live passively, expecting God to do everything for them. Now, sometimes God in His sovereignty answers prayers and meets needs before we ask. But as a general rule, Christians are meant to ask, seek, or do something to receive what God has promised.

It’s always been this way, by the way; it’s the pattern revealed to us from the early pages of the Old Testament. God made an amazing covenant with Abraham, but Abraham had to step out in faith and start walking. When God delivered His people out of Egypt, He required of them to “rise up, and go forth,” and to make a perilous journey across a trackless desert. When God wanted to deliver His people from Babylon, only those who were willing to work for it, left all they had, faced peril and uncertainty, make a long and dangerous journey, received their deliverance.

And that spiritual context brings us to the historical context behind Isaiah 52, the book and chapter in which our sixth “be” is found.

The nation of Israel began as a promise God made to Abraham. In the course of time, Abraham’s descendants, Jacob’s family, went down to Egypt – as a family, not as a nation – around 1876 BC. But, they didn’t stay just a family for long. Settling in the land of Goshen, Jacob’s family grew and grew and overflowed the borders of Goshen. They grew into a nation that posed a threat to their hosts, the Egyptians, and in response, the Egyptians enslaved them. In 1446 BC, the Lord gloriously freed Jacob’s descendants, now known as Hebrews. In 722 BC, the Assyrians took ten of the twelve tribes of Israel captive to Assyria (2 Kings 17:1 – 6) and in 586 BC, the remaining two tribes were taken captive by the Babylonians, successors to the Assyrians. For a variety of reasons but mostly because of the idolatry, God used the Assyrians and later the Babylonians to judge His people . God gave them the Promised Land, and He took it away from them. This judgment shouldn’t have come as a surprise to either the northern Kingdom of Israel or the southern Kingdom of Judah because for centuries the Lord had sent His messengers, the prophets, to warn them to “shape up” of they’d be forced to “ship out,” either to Assyria or Babylon.

Isaiah was just such a messenger. In chapter 52, Isaiah is addressing exiles living in Babylon.  Jerusalem had been devastated and most its inhabitants had been deported to Babylon. When Nebuchadnezzar steam-rolled into Judah, he would eventually take the majority of the inhabitants of the southern kingdom. Just how many? The prophet Jeremiah helps us out with that –

This is the number of the people Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile: in the seventh year, 3,023 Jews; in Nebuchadnezzar’s eighteenth year, 832 people from Jerusalem; in his twenty-third year, 745 Jews taken into exile by Nebuzaradan the commander of the imperial guard. There were 4,600 people in all. (Jeremiah 52:28 – 30 TNIV)

But not all were taken. Isaiah lived before these events took place, but He wrote to his fellows in Babylon prophetic words of encouragement, encouraging them to remain faithful to their faith even while surrounded by heathens and pagans and false gods of every sort. The temptation must have been intense, especially given the fact that many of these Jews were already discouraged and frustrating, thinking God had abandoned them.

God’s message

The call.

Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor, Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, Daughter Zion, now a captive. (Isaiah 52:1, 2 TNIV)

It was not a good time for these Jews living in exile. Conditions weren’t the greatest and the pall of hopelessness had settled over these exiles. What they needed to know was that all was not lost. They did have a future – Jerusalem had a future, even as it lay in ruins at the moment. Blessing would come the city and it would be glorious once again.

When will this happen? Well, it sort of happened when many of the Hebrews returned from exile under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. But it won’t fully come to pass until Jesus Christ returns, at which time He will restore not only Jerusalem, but the whole physical universe, which right now is “groaning” under the weight of man’s sin. When our Lord returns He will redeem our bodies and all creation will be redeemed and set right.

The condition.

For this is what the Lord says: “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.” For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “At first my people went down to Egypt to live; lately, Assyria has oppressed them. “And now what do I have here?” declares the Lord. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock, “declares the Lord. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (Isaiah 52:3 – 5 TNIV)

This is the Lord, not Isaiah, talking about Israel’s history. This really is quite a stunning soliloquy when you read the phrases and think about what God is saying. These were God’s people taken captive and kept in exile – God’s possession – and since He received nothing from those who took His people, He will give nothing in return. God will take from the enemy what belongs to Him: His people and Jerusalem.

Of course, God is talking about His people in exile; He’s trying to encourage them; to buck them up. Just because they are in exile didn’t mean He’d given up on them or given them away. They were still His holy possession. And that ownership of His people – the Jews – continues down to this very day. In a sense, they are still in exile. And they will be until the Lord returns.

The promise.

For this is what the Lord says: “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed. ” Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.” (Isaiah 52:3, 6 TNIV)

Again, God owes no nation anything. It is true that He used Assyria and Babylon as His instruments of judgment, but He is sovereign – He is over all nations whether they know it or not. The Babylonian exiles brought no glory to Him from those nations, therefore when His purpose was fulfilled, He would take them back, giving nothing in return. It’s His right to do that.

The messengers.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. (Isaiah 52:7, 8 TNIV)

Here is God’s estimation and characterization of true evangelists. God hadn’t forgotten His people and even in Babylon in exile, He still sent prophets to encourage them.

And that gets us to our sixth “be.”

Things would get better for these exiles. In the short term, they would be permitted to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild it. But the final fulfillment – the final restoration – of Jerusalem won’t happen until the Lord returns.

But God’s stern warning to these exiles echoes down through history because it is just as relevant to believers today as it was to those Jews back then. Think about it: They were surrounded by pagans; Babylonian society was prosperous and enticing; many of these Jews eventually settled in among the heathens, even intermarrying with them. To those exiles, and to God’s exiles today comes the word –

Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house. (Isaiah 52:11 TNIV)

It is the responsibility of all believers, but especially those in positions of leadership within the Body of Christ, to avoid all impurity – to not even touch things the Lord considers unclean. “Be pure” is an admonition that sounds almost old fashioned. The notion of “purity” has become passé or even maudlin. But God demands it of His people. God wants His people pure and the easiest way to be pure is to simply avoid impurity. Don’t go near things that are impure. You may want to, and the shiny objects of impurity may get your attention from time to time, but if you want to be obedient to the Lord and if you want to blessed by Him and have His promises come to pass in your life, you won’t go near impurity.

Ezekiel and the False Shepherds

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Ezekiel 34:11 – 30

God wants very much to bless; He takes no pleasure in cursing.  However, both blessing and cursing are part of how God dealt with Israel.  Both are elements in His covenant arrangement with His people.

Even though we as Christians are not under any of His covenants per se, God has not changed how He deals with His people.  Obedience is rewarded, disobedience carries with it unpleasant consequences for the believer.

Ezekiel’s prophecies and sermons were given with God’s covenants in view.  It might be helpful to understand those covenants as we proceed to look at Israel’s glorious future.

1.  A God of Covenants

(A)  The Abrahamic Covenant, Genesis 12:1-3

This covenant is really God’s declaration of how He wants to bless the world.  Through one man, Abram, God would establish a nation – Israel – and through that nation God would bless the entire world.  This is the covenant that is in focus from Genesis through Joshua.  The Hebrew people became a nation in Egypt, during their captivity.  Israel’s government was established at Mount Sinai, after they left Egypt.  They acquired their homeland after the conquest of Canaan, being led by Joshua.

(B)  The Mosaic Covenant, Exodus 20 – Numbers 9, Deuteronomy.

The covenant Moses and the people entered into with God was a detailed expansion of the Abrahamic covenant.  This one gave Israel it’s national constitution and its laws, both civil and religious.  This covenant, though, carried with it a caveat.  Incredible blessings would fall on Israel only so long as they lived up to their end of the covenant.  If, at any time in her history Israel rebelled and disobeyed the stipulations of the covenant, she would find herself a nation without a homeland.  That’s why she found herself in exile in Babylon.  God was faithful in how He dealt with His people.  He warned them in the covenant (Deuteronomy 27, 28) and He sent prophet after prophet to warn them.

(C)  The Davidic Covenant, 2 Samuel 7:12 – 16

This covenant is a little different than the previous two.  Here, God promised David that one of his descendants would always – forever – sit on his throne.  It was to be an eternal throne in an eternal kingdom.  This is where the Jews get their concept of “Messiah.”  Each king was, in essence, their “messiah,” their “anointed ruler.”  But the Davidic covenant went a step further promising a “final son” of David who would rule over the world from David’s throne.

(D)  The New Covenant, Jeremiah 36, 2 Corinthians 3

A lot of Christians think the New Covenant was first mentioned by Jesus, and later by Paul, and is all about them.  That’s not entirely wrong, but when understood correctly the New Covenant takes on profound meaning.

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:20  TNIV)

The New Covenant may have been established by the sacrifice of Jesus, but it was first announced by the prophet Jeremiah!

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”  (Jeremiah 31:31  TNIV)

This New covenant, by name, would take in parts of the Mosaic covenant and, instead of being recorded on stone or parchment, it would now be inscribed on the hearts of the people.  This New covenant though would be a great improvement over the other ones in all ways because now, for the very first time, all sins would be forgiven once and for all by the Messiah and the Spirit of God would be poured out all those who believe.

As Ezekiel preached, he always had these covenants in his view.  Because the people had not been faithful in respect to the Mosaic covenant, they would lose their homes and homeland and would be scattered among the nations.  This happened when Jerusalem finally fell.  The Israelites were now a people without a country.  But God didn’t want His people to think He was done with them and that it was all over!  In addition to dealing with them – exiling them temporarily – God promised to deal most severely with the nations surrounding Israel that had oppressed her.  We can see the results of this in history.

2.  Rotten shepherds

What was Israel’s biggest problem?  They were stiff necked and rebellious to be sure, but their biggest problem were the false shepherds that continually led them astray.

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: `This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? [5] So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  (Ezekiel 34:2, 5  TNIV)

No nation can survive long with leaders who don’t look out for the well-being of the people under their care.  It was all the worse for Israel given their divine origins.  Essentially the Israelites lost the land because of these false shepherds.  The sheep – the people – became lost, distracted souls looking for the light but finding only darkness.

Not every Israelite was rotten and rebellious, but the punishment was national.  Fortunately, the faithlessness of some cannot nullify the grace of God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?  (Romans 3:3  TNIV)

The people were stuck in Babylon for the foreseeable future; there was nothing they could do about that.  But all was not lost!  God had not given up on Israel, and He HAS not given up on His people.  A faithful and just Shepherd will come – the Messiah – and will completely restore Israel’s fortunes and glory and the world will be blessed by her.

3.  What God will do for His sheep

(A)  He will search for them.

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.”  (Ezekiel 34:11  TNIV)

In the context of Ezekiel’s sermon, God will search out and find all the Israelites scattered among the nations.  He knows where they are and He will find them.  But there is a wonderfully comforting feeling you get from reading this verse, especially when we compare it to what Jesus said of Himself:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  (Luke 19:10  TNIV)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  (John 10:11  TNIV)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  (John 10:27  TNIV)

The good news is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He is looking for lost sheep.  As far as the exiles were concerned, even though they had been led astray by the false shepherds, they were responsible but God would seek them out and would lead them personally.  It’s good to know that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, has loving concern for people gone astray and who are willfully rebellious.  He never gives up!

(B)  He will rescue them.

As shepherds look after their scattered flocks when they are with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.   (Ezekiel 34:12  TNIV)

The Good Shepherd doesn’t just stumble upon a lost sheep, He is out there actively searching for them and He will do whatever it takes to get hold of that sheep and save him.

God would find His people, wherever they were, and would restore them to their land no matter what.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10:14-15  TNIV)

(C)  He will bring them.

I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.  (Ezekiel 34:13  TNIV)

Again, all this what God WILL DO for Israel.  It has yet to occur; it will happen in the future, when the Messiah comes in glory.  There is no way God is close to being finished with Israel!  It has a glorious future.

(D)  He will feed them.

I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.   (Ezekiel 34:14  TNIV)

One day, in the future, all their needs will be met.  Hunger, food shortages, all the things that have plagued mankind since the dawn of time will be taken away.

As Christians we are able to enjoy a foretaste of this kind of divine provision today.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:19  TNIV)

(E)  He will give them rest.

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.  (Ezekiel 34:15  TNIV)

When the Messiah comes, there will be no more wandering around for Israel; no more threat of attack.  She will finally and forever be a nation at peace.

Thank God as Christians we have the promise of peace right now!  One of the benefits of a relationship with the Good Shepherd is an abiding peace.   It’s in us because it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and if you’re born again, then you are full of the Holy Spirit and you are able to access that supernatural peace any time you need it!

(F)  He will bind them (heal them).

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.  (Ezekiel 34:16  TNIV)

God will restore the nation in every way and justice will finally prevail.

(G)  He will rule over them.

I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.  I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.  (Ezekiel 34:23-24  TNIV)

Here’s an allusion to the David covenant.  God would forever deliver Israel from all her enemies and distress.  No more poor, directionless leadership!  A final, Good Shepherd would come for His people:  the Messiah, whom Ezekiel refers to as “my servant David.”  Really, that’s another term for “a descendant of David.”

(H)  He will make them a blessing.

I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.  (Ezekiel 34:26  TNIV)

Here’s an allusion to an earlier covenant.  When Christ, the Good Shepherd, comes as Messiah, Israel will finally be the conduit of blessing she was always intended to be.  God will bless them and will make them a blessing to the whole world.

3.  A prelude to the Millennial Kingdom

The similarities between John 10 and Ezekiel 34 are so strong that it is obvious that Jesus had Ezekiel’s sermon in mind when He said, “I am the good shepherd.”  When Jesus spoke those words and gave the teaching in John 10, He was telling the Jews with discernment who He really was.  He was the Shepherd of whom Ezekiel spoke.

Spiritually, we may enjoy a full and satisfying relationship with the Good Shepherd today.  We don’t have to wait until the Millennium to have the Messiah reign in our hearts.    The promises made to Israel are real and awaiting fulfillment.  But we who are born again are already part of the Good Shepherd’s flock!  We know His voice.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8  TNIV)

The Good Shepherd gave His life for us, the lost the sheep.  How will you respond?

 

A SURVEY OF THE MAJOR PROPHETS, 8

God’s Demanding Call, Ezekiel 2—3

Some jobs are harder others.  Some jobs are physically demanding, others are emotionally draining, and some are hard just because they offer no challenge.   The life of the prophet cannot be separated from his job, and without a doubt the job of the Biblical prophet was the most difficult and demanding job in that era.

Ezekiel was a Biblical prophet with a difference.  He did not work in Israel nor did he work in Judah.  But he did preach to his people.  It wasn’t that he worked “out of town,” it was that during most of his ministry there was no Israel and there was no Judah.  His work took place during the exilic period while Judah was either controlled by Babylon or after all of its citizens had been deported to Babylon.  Ezekiel himself was taken away during the second of three deportations.

His ministry began about seven years (on or about 593 BC) before the Temple was destroyed.  Those who remained in Judah were traumatized when their Temple was leveled; the Temple was more than just a “church,” it was where Jehovah lived.  With no Temple, the people had no hope.

Ezekiel’s wife died during the siege of Jerusalem, which was tragic enough, but God forbade Ezekiel a period of mourning as sign to his people that a greater tragedy was occurring—

15 The word of the LORD came to me: 16 “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. 17 Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food of mourners.”  (see Ezekiel 24:15—24)

Regardless of how poor Ezekiel may have felt, regardless of His personal loss, God needed His man to focus on his mission; nothing was more important than fulfilling the call of God and taking God’s Word to the people.

Life as a dedicated, consecrated servant of God is not an easy life.  It wasn’t easy during Ezekiel’s day and it still isn’t today; which may explain why we don’t see more Ezekiel’s roaming the countryside today.

1.  The challenge of God’s call, 2:1—7

The Appearance, verses 1, 2

Chapter one serves as a kind of preface to Ezekiel’s call with chapters two and three describing the prophet’s call in some detail.

In verse 1 and in over 80 other instances, the Lord addresses Ezekiel as “son of man.”  Of all the prophets, major and minor, only Ezekiel is so addressed.   This title was to serve as a reminder of the frailty and weakness of the man as he humbly stood before the majestic God, his creator.  By using this ascription, the Lord gently reminded Ezekiel that despite his high office as prophet, he was utterly dependent on the power of the God’s Spirit.  It was only through His Spirit that Ezekiel was able to hear the Lord speaking to him.  In fact, the prophet would have been of no use to God whatsoever except the Lord fill his mouth with His word.

In verse 2, the Lord tells His prophet to “stand up.”  It took the Spirit of God to get Ezekiel on his feet; the Spirit entered him and empowered him.  Through the power of God’s Spirit, Ezekiel was physically strengthened for the task that he was called to and that same Spirit enabled the man to hear God’s voice.

The mission, verses 3—7

To the man drafted for prophetic service, the message was clear:  Israel was a rebellious nation.  God had nothing good to say about the nation He called into existence.  Ezekiel referred to them as (literally):  “hard of face,” “hardheaded” and “brazen.”  What other adjectives would fit people who had been judged and found wanting, yet refused to repent or admit their sin?  Their “hard faces” meant that generations of willful rebellion and sinful living had caused their hearts to become hard.

While the commission side of Ezekiel’s call takes up most of chapters 2 and 3, the thrust of his message starts off depressing and gets worse.  The Lord describes His people in a horrible progression of hurtfulness:  from briers to thorns to scorpions.

The message was bad, but the truly disquieting feature of Ezekiel’s calling was that his message was not to be conditioned on his listener’s response (verse 5).  Even if nobody listened, the prophet was to keep on preaching the same message; only then would those stubborn people realize that a prophet had been among them.   If God’s spokesman then had to minister with that kind of single-minded devotion, how important it is that God’s spokesmen today heed that same principle!

In light of the difficult ministry to which Ezekiel had been called, the Lord gave him two directives:  he was not to be afraid and he was to keep on preaching regardless.  Really, the message, as important as it was, was secondary to these main directives, for if Ezekiel failed to be obedient, the message would have never been delivered.

2.  Internalizing God’s Word, 2:8—3:3

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. (3:1, 2)

A true spokesman of God never preaches a message impersonal to him, with which he has never wrestled with personally; over which he had never struggled.  The word a preacher delivers to others has first passed through his own soul.

So it was with Ezekiel.  He was called to speak for God, but first God’s Word had to become part of the prophet.  It was absolutely necessary for the prophet to hear, understand, and assimilate God’s message prior to delivering it to anybody.  His “eating” the scroll symbolized his complete acceptance of the Lord’s difficult message.  The message Ezekiel was to proclaim was written on the scroll; it was like a funeral dirge, full of mourning and lamentation; it was not a joyous message.  Yet even when Ezekiel’s ministry would prove to be difficult and often distasteful, the Lord would cause His Word to be as sweet as honey!  The words of verse 3 bring to mind Psalm 119:103—

103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

3.  Emboldened by God’s call, 3:4—14

The audience, verses 4—7

As it was the later Son of Man, Ezekiel’s great Anti-type, so the prophet was commissioned to go to the House of Israel.  Verse 11 clarifies and limits the extent of his audience—

11 Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.”

The people to whom Ezekiel was to preach were not strangers, they were his own people.

Special empowerment, verses 8, 9

Though stiff-necked, rebellious, and obstinate, and though it would have been much easier to take his message to strangers, Ezekiel was to be strong and determined.  This would be no problem for the prophet, because the Lord had prepared him by making him more determined than the people of Israel.  God never sends out his messengers without first preparing them.    Greater is He who was FOR Ezekiel, than the multitude against him!

It may seem strange that God would call such a mild-mannered person as Ezekiel to such a mission.  As we read his book, we see that Ezekiel was a man who shrank from “crossing swords” with those who opposed his message.  He often dramatized his message using symbolic acts rather than words, perhaps because the words were too difficult to speak.  But just as the weeping prophet Jeremiah was given strength for a task not natural to him, (Jeremiah 1:18; 20:7—18), so was Ezekiel.

The ministry, verses 10—14

The Word of the Lord was to literally become part of Ezekiel before he could go and proclaim it, and so he was to meditate on it.  Verse 12 begins the conclusion of his commission-giving vision.  The prophet was raised up by the Spirit to the heights where he heard a final benediction, assuring him that he indeed had seen and heard a revelation of God’s awesome glory.

Did God supernaturally transport the prophet from where he was to where his people were?  Or did Ezekiel witness his people in a vision?  Certainly he had seen a vision and been given a revelation of God, but most scholars believe the latter, and that verses 14 and 15 merely recount the prophet’s objection to his commission.  As Ezekiel was “brought back to earth” and walked among his people, he like all prophets before and after him, struggled with his calling.

We are told it took him seven days to come to grips with what God had called him to do.  All the while, however, the Lord’s hand was on him, suggesting that God was controlling him, as he sat appalled at the condition of his people and the content of his message.  Like any of us, Ezekiel struggled with the very idea of having to deliver such a distasteful, negative message to people who would not receive it.   Many of us would wonder, “What is the point of it all?”  But again, even Ezekiel’s period of mourning and struggle was used by God to teach the onlookers a lesson.  A week was both a period of mourning for the dead (the House of Israel) and also the length of time for a priest’s consecration (Ezekiel).  On his 30th birthday, Ezekiel was being consecrated for the priesthood and commissioned to proclaim his people’s funeral dirge.

The work of the Lord is not always easy or attractive.  Often the Lord calls people to do things way outside their “comfort zones.”  But we can be sure that if we are obedient to our calling, the Lord will more than equip us to perform that which He has called us to.

©  2010 WitzEnd

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