The Busy Person’s Guide to Ezekiel

Posted on 08 September 2008

Fourteen studies that provide a survey of the remarkable book of Ezekiel, one of the most interesting of God’s spokespersons.

The Busy Person’s Guide to Ezekiel:
A Survey of the Message of Ezekiel in 14 studies


Introducing Ezekiel


Date: 1:1,2 help us. Jehoiachin was taken into exile in 597/8 together with the ‘upper classes’ of Judah (including, it would appear, the twenty-five-year-old, Ezekiel (compare 2 Kings 24:10-17) and young Daniel and his friends. This puts his birth @ 622/3: a year after Josiah’s reformation commenced. His early life included the brief reformation and the rapid decline to the end of the kingdom of Judah.

Home: Some exiles were treated humanely and given towns to live in. This was apparently true for Ezekiel who lived in Tel-Abib (3:15) near Babylon. It seems he may have been one of the community leaders (see 33:21 where he is directly approached by a messenger from Jerusalem).

Occupation: Ezekiel (like Jeremiah) was from a priestly family (1:3:40:46;44:15). He was married and, early, widowed (24:15-18).

Ministry: His ministry as a prophet began in 592/3, aged 30 (when a priest commenced his ministry). He was still prophesying 22 years later (29:17). We have no knowledge how longer he lived. It appears from this, however, that all of his ministry was undertaken in exile. It appears that his home may have become a centre for those seeking spiritual help (8:1;14:1;20:1). 

Call: His call is recorded in chapter 1. As with other prophets, his experience coloured the specifics of his ministry… as we shall see.

Spiritual Experience: The ‘hand of the Lord’ (1:3) is a semi-technical phrase for an unusual state of mind in which he was sometimes affected bodily: falling on his face (1:28;3:23;9:8;11;13;43:7;44:4), shaking (12:17ff) and groaning (21:6). He appears to have had some sort of ‘telepathic’ abilities (8:5-16;12:22,27;18:2;33:10). As such, he appears to have ‘functioned’ at one extreme of the prophetic experience.

Testimony: The summary of his experience is found in 1:28: he saw ‘the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD’. We might say that he glimpsed a reflection of an illustration of the reality of God….’ It left him gobsmacked! But this shaped his whole ministry.

Specifically, he saw the LORD as majestic (1:26), awesome (1:22), beautiful as precious stones (1:4;16;26), pure (1:4,13,14,22, compare Isaiah 6:1-7), powerful (1:4,14,24),‘human’ (1:26), constantly and watchfully on the move (esp. 1:12,14,17) and surrounded by a rainbow (1:26).

How do you think this experience would have helped Ezekiel? How might it help us?

Ezekiel : His Call (Chapters 2:1-3:21).


None of us are called to be prophets and, perhaps, few of us, evangelists but, as we explore these two chapters, we will discover a number of lessons that apply directly to each one of us!


* We note then that the first thing that occurred to Ezekiel after his first encounter with God was that God started to speak to him…(2:1,2) indeed for many years this continued to be the case. Words (certainly at their best) are the means to and characteristic of intimacy. The God who banished human beings from his face and fellowship in Genesis 3 now resumes his conversation with his prophet. The fruit of our own very individual encounters with God in Jesus have for us, too, opened up the channels of intimacy to us too!

How is this true for us?...and why was the word bittersweet (3:3)?

* Right from the first conversation Ezekiel has with God, he is given a task to undertake (2:3). He is to be the prophet/evangelist par excellence to the Israelites in exile (2:3).

What has God called me to do?

* Reading through these two chapters one is immediately struck by the fact that Ezekiel’s call is both impossible and thankless. Small wonder his response (2:15 and compare the previous verse!). Words like ‘rebellious’, obstinate’ and ‘stubborn’ (2:3,4) recur throughout the passage. The potential problems to effective communication will not exist (3:5,6) and the problem does not lie with the effectiveness of the messenger, nor the clarity of the message (2:5) but, rather, with the human heart (3:7,11), and its problem with God (3:7): the people will hear, sure enough, but (few at most) will listen! He is doomed to failure from the start!

What might we learn from this in our witness as a Church? What might we learn from this as we face God’s call on our lives? Since Ezekiel is sent to Israel (2:3; 3:1), how might we prove to be like the members of the Old Testament ‘church’?

* Yet, for all its difficulty, the LORD both promises Ezekiel resources commensurate with the difficulty of the task and calls him to faithfulness not ‘success’. The latter is in God’s hands, the former is our responsibility. Thus Ezekiel is warned that he must fulfil his difficult call or ‘be it on your own head’ (2:8; 3:16ff). At the same time he is encouraged (2:6; 3:9), guided (3:12-15) and equipped (3:8,9) even though the task is not congenial (3:14).

What then might we learn from Ezekiel’s experience or, rather, what might we learn here about his God?


The Book of Ezekiel: Study 3

Ezekiel 3:21-7:27


Surveying the Passage:

What a peculiar passage!

• Ezekiel is bound and struck dumb in his own house, except when God speaks to him (3:21-27);
• he then plays soldiers in the mud, building up a model of Jerusalem under seige (4:1-3);
• this is followed by demonstrating the effects of living under seige (4:4-17);
• further, he shaves his head and burns, hacks and throws up in the air all but a small amount that he tucks in the folds of his clothes (5:1-4).

By this time everyone doubtless regarded him as mad: dumb and quite obviously out of his mind! Some prophet!!!

Ezekiel himself is given an explanation (4:3; 16f;5:4-17). Not until chapter 6, however, is Ezekiel given words to speak to the people; and then….!!!

. Simply, he explains:

• The LORD is going to reveal himself in the almost total destruction of his apostate people (6:1-7, 11-14);
• A remnant, however, will be exiled and, there, be awakened to repentance (6:8-10);
• The end is coming (7:1-9) and has now arrived (7:10-27). ‘Israel’ has ceased to exist!
• Then they will know that ‘I am the LORD’ (7:27 and parallels, e.g. 7:4,9).

Questions:

• Why do you think Ezekiel was struck dumb?
• Why was Ezekiel required to do so much peculiar ‘play acting’?
• How should his actions and words apply to us… who are not Israel?
• What then are the lessons we can take away from this passage?

 

 

 

The Book of Ezekiel, Study 4.

Chapter 8


A Backward Glance

In the early chapters of the prophecy (1-7), Ezekiel has encountered God, been given his call and then (by means largely of symbolic actions) given the responsibility to declare the imminent judgement of God on Jerusalem and Judah. The following chapters (8-24) may be viewed as the prophet’s justification of his message.

A Renewed Experience of God

Exactly fourteen months after his first vision (8:1, compare 1:2) Ezekiel receives another trance-like vision in which he is conducted to the north gate of the Jerusalem temple (8:3).

A People Under Judgment

• There he is faced with two strikingly contradictory scenes. Firstly, the glory of God was present as in his former vision and as one would expect of God’s earthly dwelling place (8:4). Secondly, however, he sees an ‘idol that provokes to jealousy’ (8:3), i.e. something that was an insult to God and inevitably doomed to arouse his righteous anger (8:5,6). As to what it was is bnot made explicit. While it is clearly a picture of compromise and syncretism could the altar be something that (like the Golden Calf) was thought to be a representation of the LORD?
• But worse was to follow! Through a ‘hole in the wall’ and like a ‘fly on the wall’ Ezekiel is given a picture of the senior figure in the executive and the entire (?)  religious and social heirarchy of Judah engaged in worship (8:11) but in a context which is a) directed to the creation rather than the creator (and is determined by the practices of Egypt, Canaan and Babylon, 8:10) and b) self-determined (8:12). Such is, of course , possible where the revealed picture of God is ignored (8:12b).
• Again worse was to follow (8:13)! The failure of the leadership is reflected in the practice of the people. Tammuz was a popular Sumerian god of vegetation, fertility and the underworld. The rejection of God’s self-revelation has made it ‘open day’ for the infiltration and popular adoption of a world-view totally opposed to the truth.
• But there was one final and notorious cause celebre that the LORD wished Ezekiel to see (8:14,15). Within the very heart of the temple (8:16) the priestly assembly had turned their backs on the holiest place and were engaged in sun worship in what could only be viewed as a ‘two finger sign’ to the LORD (8:17).

In such a context, no amount of aggressive actions towoard God were going ot affect his decision to act againstthem (8:18).

Questions

• Can we apply this passage to our contemporary situation and, if so, how?
• What detailed applications and observations can be made about the different pictures Ezekiel depicts?

 


Ezekiel, Study 5: chapters 9-11


Recap

After his initial vision and call (chapters 1,2), Ezekiel is called to fulfil a number of (largely mute but symbolical) actions that are intended to declare Judah/Jerusalem is under imminent threat of extinction under the LORD’s judgement (chapters 3-7). Then, some time later, as if to justify the severity of the threat, Ezekiel receives a second visionary experience that exposes the spiritual corruption that lay at the very heart of Judean life and had extended throughout society and, above all, characterised the spiritual elite. This sets the context for the present passage.

Explanation

Ezekiel’s vision continues as, in response to the situation described in chapter 8, executioners are called to prepare for action (9:1-2). Meanwhile two significant events are recorded: 1) the ‘glory’ of God rises from its place at the sanctuary and (temporarily) rests at the outer door of the Temple (3a); 2) a scribe is sent to mark the righteous (3b-4). Once this has occurred the carnage can start and extend indiscriminately to both genders and every age group (5-7,11) with the sole exception of those marked. In response, Ezekiel asks whether this is the end of God’s people (8). At this stage no reply is given except to re-iterate the point that the practical atheism of the people has brought this judgement upon themselves (9). The consequence is, therefore, inevitable: the one deemed uninterested will show that he is anything but (10).

The following detailed scene (chapter 10) is reminiscent of chapter 1. Central to the reappearance of the cherubim is the fact that they act as guardians of the LORD’s departing glory. From inner court, to threshold, to the east gate, the ‘glory’ moves out of the Temple (compare 4,18). Where the presence of the LORD is withdrawn from his people, the consequences are inevitable.

Meanwhile a very different scenario is played out at the east gate (1): the elite of the nation are gathered, as certain of protection as meat in a strong iron pot (2,3). The reality is, however, at odds with their optimism (4).These leaders are guilty of the (coming) destruction of their people (5,6) and will, themselves, encounter their worst fears (8-10): all ‘meat’ indeed for devouring (7)! Thus, the city will fail to afford the hoped-for security as the people are led out of the land into exile for their failure to obey the LORD (11,12). As a token of this judgement to come the ringleader drops dead (13) and prompts the prophet’s repeated question as to whether this is the end of his people (13).

This time he is given an answer! The very people whom the erstwhile residents had considered under the LORD’s judgement, the current exiles among whom Ezekiel lived, have been removed from the scene to protect them from the destruction (14-16) and will, in time return to the land (17), scour it clean (18) and experience the LORD’s renewing work (19) that will render possible their obedience (20): but obedience will remain the ground of their blessing (21).

After such an answer we are unsurprised that the ‘glory’ removed further… and to the east where the exiles lived (22,23) and to whom Ezekiel proclaims his experience (24,25). 
Application
Ezekiel’s vision centres around the movement of the LORD’s glory. What lessons might we learn from this?
How might ‘practical atheism’ characterise our lives? How can we ‘presume’ on God?
What lessons are to be derived from these chapters for those who seek to remain faithful to the LORD?
What warnings might leaders derive from these chapters?

Ezekiel Study 6 (12:1-14:11)


Chapters 12-19 continue the theme of the coming judgement of Judah but the emphasis is slightly different. Whereas 4-7 constitute a prediction of that judgement and 8-11 offer the reasons, 12-19 focus more specifically (but not exclusively) on the certainty of the coming judgement.

In chapter 12 two further symbolic actions, here accompanied by commentaries, are given (12:1-16; 17-20). The reason for such a technique is apparently offered (1,2): the inability of mere words to prompt listening and the opening of the ‘inward eye’. As a result, Ezekiel is called (first of all) to act the part of a city’s inhabitant who, by day, is seen packing his few remaining possessions together so that, under darkness, flight is effected through a breach in the city’s defences. Yet flight is ineffectual and the fugitive, deprived of sight (6,12,13), is taken into captivity; a fate that actually befell king Zedekiah in 586 (see 2 Kings 25:7). The second symbolic action is to eat a meal, quaking and trembling as if this might be the last meal.  The threat is real and immediate.

By way of contrast, however, are the description of the spiritual (chapter 13) and political (14:1-11) leadership. In Judah it was not the case that no voice claiming the LORD’s authority was present! There were voices (plural) to be heard: but they uttered the words of the self-deceived who, having never heard the authentic voice of God, genuinely confused their own inner-musings with his revelation and offered a message unable to meet the needs of their hearers (13:1-7). Specifically, they do a ‘whitewash job’, offering cheap and illusory peace (13:8-16) and are become ministers who confusedly reassure those who are under judgement while condemning those who genuinely need an oracle of peace (13:17-23). Such ministries will be proven false by the exposure of their lies in judgement.

If the religious leaders have failed, so have the political leadership. They may seek spiritual authentication for their actions (14:1,2) but, at heart, they are utterly corrupt. Ezekiel’s language is graphic employing words that refer to the seat of a person’s personality (the ‘heart’) and the ‘deepest’ word for sin (‘iniquity’); their problem lies at the very core of who they are (14:1-5). Without repentance (6) they, too, must face the consequences (7,8) and suffer the same fate as the spiritual charlatan (9-10) so that (and, at last a word of hope) the spiritual well-being of those who are, genuinely, the LORD’s people is effected (11). The immediately ensuing months revealed who was speaking on the LORD’s behalf!

Points to Ponder:
• At what point do parallels exist today with Ezekiel’s time: specifically, who are the persons who stand in the ‘place’ of those Ezekiel condemns?
• Given such parallels, what are the modern equivalents to those evils that Ezekiel condemns?
• What actions should we take in the light of this?

Ezekiel Study 7 (14:12-16:63)

 

Recap: Ezekiel has, thus far, been dominated by the coming judgement of Judah. Whereas 4-7 predicted Judah’s fall, 8-11 offered the divine rationale. 12-19, by way of contrast, focus more specitically upon the certainty of this judgement and 12:1-14:11 have depicted this inevitabilty in the face of the failures of both religious and political authorities who had failed to live and speak for the LORD.


The present passage emphasises that, as a consequence, the coming sword, famine, wild beasts and plague cannot be averted: not even by the intervention of the most righteous and best of intercessors (14:12-21). Indeed, Ezekiel’s word will be confirmed and vindicated by the wicked lifestyles of those who arrive before the prophet in his place of exile (14:22,23).

Ezekiel here responds to an implied objection: ‘But is not Jerusalem the spiritual heart of Judah and the indestructible vine planted by the LORD?’ His reply is to re-interpret the image. Vine indeed, but wild, fruitless, useless as timber and, if plucked from the fire (as in 587) only good enough to be chucked back into the fire and finally consumed (15:1-8).

Another objection might be, ‘Is not Judah the chosen bride of God and covenanted to him?’ In response the LORD tells Ezekiel, Jerusalem had been an unnattractive foundling (16:1-4) upon whom the LORD had lavished every attention, beautified and loved (16:5-8). Within the covenant of marriage every privilege had been given (16:9-14) but these very privileges had become the means of her downfall (16:15-19). Tragically, spiritual prostitution followed: any and every religious practice (‘justified’ perhaps by the need for political alliances) was preferable to faithfulness: thus the religions of Canaan and its neighbours (16:20-22) and the various practices of those from south (Egypt), west (Philistines), north (Assyrians) and east (Babylon) had been insatiably pursued (16:23-29)… without even bothering to take a fee (16:30-34)! Such can only be afforded the punishment of an adulterous wife (16:35-43) and (ironically) the ‘lovers’ will prove the agents of such punishment. Indeed, such has been Judah’s sin that she has revealed her ancestry, but exceeded the complacent prosperity and pride of ‘sister’ Sodom and the religious abominations of ‘sister’ Samaria (16:44-53).

The following verses (16:53-59) with their promise of restoration are not easy to interpret but lead to a promise that beyond judgement will be lasting forgiveness and a new covenant grounded in an act of divinely undertaken atonement accompanied by enduring shame and humiliation for past sins (16:60-63)

The story of the whole Bible is the story of the triumph of God in relation to those whom he created and redeemed from their rebellion. What do we learn from this section of Ezekiel that contributes to our understanding of God and his actions towards us?

Ezekiel Study 8 (17:1-19:14)


Recap: this is the third and final section of that part of Ezeliel’s message (chapters 12-19) that are largely devoted to setting out the inevitability of the LORD’s coming judgement against Judah (and Jerusalem as its centre).

Given, probably about 590, the LORD’s allegory given to ‘Israel’ (17:1,2) dominates the chapter. A knowledge of the historical context does not make it difficult to interpret. Thus, the first great eagle is Nebuchadrezzar who invades the region, takes away its nobility, removes them to Babylon. Meanwhile, Zedekiah is placed upon the throne of Judah but in a subservient role (17:1-6). The second eagle is Egypt to whom Zedekiah turns (17:7,8) but with no prospect of florishing (17:9,10).

Explanation follows (17:11-21). Such an action by Zedekiah is seen as doomed (17:11-15), Egypt will prove no saviour and Zedekiah, himself, will be taken away to Babylon to die there (17:16-18): indeed, the LORD will be the avenger of Zedekiah’s broken oath to Nebuchadrezzar (17:19-21). And yet…. Nebuchadrezzar’s action will be eclipsed by the LORD (17:22-24, compare 3b with 22). He, too, will ‘act the gardener’ and guarantees (17:24) the ongoing Davidic dynasty and its influence will increase as that of others wanes.

Several of the chapters in the present section seem to reflect objections raised by Ezekiel’s opponents. This is explicitly so here (18:1-32, especially, 1,2). The people are, apparently, blaming their predecessors for the mess in which they find themselves. Such a conclusion implies the LORD is not just and there were certainly those ready to make this point (18:25). Ezekiel’s reply is to emphasise personal responsibility (18:3,4) and he makes his point with three illustrations: apparently referrring to three generations of the same family (could it be Hezekiah, Manasseh and Josiah?). First, then, a righteous man is described by his religious fidelity and his moral rectitude (18:5,6 and 7-9). Secondly, there is the wicked son of a righteous father, similarly described (18:10-13) and, finally, the righteous son of a wicked father (18:14-18). In each case the individual is treated on their own merits (see, especially, 18:9,13, 18). The point is then, righteousness is no more inherited than iniquity: each is individually responsible (18:19-20).

Consequently, the LORD’s threats can be averted since he delights in repentance rather than judgement (18:21-32). These verses offer an explanatory key to the otherwise unendingly black picture!It must not be missed.

The section ends with a dirge (19:1-14). It is not difficult to identify the persons referred to: Jehoahaz, taken captive to Egypt in 609BC (4), Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, exiled to Babylon in 597BC (9) and Zedekiah (14). The last section is probably prediction and nothing could more effectively depict the sorry and inevitabel end of the nation in the light of its ongoing refusal to listen to the LORD and repent.


Questions:
• If chapter 18:19-20 is correct, how do we explain the present condition of the Church in Southend?
• If Zedekiah was tempted to look elsewhere than the LORD for support, where might we be looking?
• What comfort can we draw from these chapters?

Ezekiel Study 9: Chapters 20-22


After the account of the Prophet’s call (chapters 1-3), Ezekiel’s ministry, declaring the judgement to come on Judah/Jerusalem has followed: the initial prediction (4-7) followed by the successive emphases upon the reasons for (8-11) and the certainty of (12-19) judgement. Chapters 20-24 reach a climax in stressing both the rightness and describing (in a somewhat peculiar way!) the fact of judgement: by the end of this section there can be no question that Ezekiel is the LORD’s spokesperson (24:27).

For the third time (compare 8:1;14:1) the nation’s leaders-in-exile visit Ezekiel but while they keep coming they do not change and, consequently, there can be no fellowship but only a message of judgement (20:1-4) as the culmination of three periods of Israel’s history: the sojourn in Egypt (5-9), the wilderness wanderings (10-27) and the occupation of Canaan (28-32). Sadly the repeated lessons (like Ezekiel’s sermons) had gone unheeded. Self-generated religion (8,28) and disregard for the LORD’s will (13,21,24: its companion, 16,24), were as characteristic of the present as the past and the consequence as inevitable (30-32). This judgement would also mark a new beginning of the LORD’s kingly rule (33-47): an era in which all those in the nation who had failed to live by the stipulations of his covenant with them would be purged (especially 37-39) before the people’s restoration to the land. Yet, even now, there was none willing to listen (48f). Small wonder, then, the sustained picture (and painful message) of a warrior’s vengeance against idolatry (21:1-5), the leaders of the nation and all those who rally to their cause (6-17) and, finally, against the land itself (18-32). Perhaps we are intended to detect the irony in the fact that Judah/Jerusalem will even reject the voices of idolatrous practices when the voice is one of judgement (23)!

A final expose of the perverse society that Jerusalem had become follows (chapter 22): with the intent of demonstrating the propriety of the LORD’s judgement. Simply, defiling violence and idolatry was rampant (1-5). More specifically, Ezekiel highlights the misuse of power (6), the breakdown of authority (in the home, 7), the absence of compassion for the marginalised and vulnerable (the migrant, orphan and widow, 7), the pursuit of profit (8), ‘spin’ in a power-hungry disregard for the truth (9) and unbridled licentiousness (10-11) among those whose ruthless exploitation emulates the conduct of the Mafia (12). Put at its baldest ‘you have forgotten me’ (12).

Such a society will be ‘hoist on its own petard’ (13-16). If the pursuit of money drive such a society, the nation will be melted like precious metals and be treated as the mere dross from the refining process (17-22). Even the ‘Church’ had been caught up in (sanctioning and/or perpetrating) predatory, finance-driven, behaviour and in a wholesale disregard of God’s word and by means of self-motivated ‘prophetic’ words and actions (23-28). Inevitably, with such examples in leadership, the people, as a whole, have (to a ‘man’) become corrupt and liable to judgement (29-31).

1. These chapters depict a society ripe for judgement yet either refusing to listen to the ‘bad news’ from God or their own oracles or preferring the more popular version of future events? Where might we detect parallels in our own world?
2. The marks of a society ‘gone to seed’ may, possibly be viewed as exemplary. What might Ezekiel have highlighted in our own society… and church?

 

Ezekiel Study 10: Chapters 23-24


After the account of the Prophet’s call (chapters 1-3), Ezekiel’s ministry, declaring the judgement to come on Judah/Jerusalem has followed: the initial prediction (4-7) followed by the successive emphases upon the reasons for (8-11) and the certainty of (12-19) judgement. Chapters 20-24 reach a climax in stressing both the rightness and describing (in a somewhat peculiar way!) the fact of judgement: by the end of this section there can be no question that Ezekiel is the LORD’s spokesperson (24:27).

Chapter 20-22 exposed the unrepentant attitude of Judah’s leaders to the corruption that characterised the whole of the nation and made judgment inevitable. The present two chapters re-enforce the same message by an appeal to Judah’s history within the wider history of God’s people (chapter 23) and the ‘double-whammy’ of God’s revelation to Ezekiel, on the very day his wife died of the fact that the siege against Jerusalem had commenced with only one possible outcome (chapter 24). Judah is now at and end.

Chapter 23 is an allegory of two sisters (representing Israel and Judah). Their two names hint at their purpose (to be devoted to the LORD); but despite their ‘union’ with the LORD they had proved irredeemably promiscuous from their earliest days as God’s people (23:1-4). The older sister eventually suffered the full consequences of her unfaithfulness: her lovers proving to be there merely to use, abuse and dispose of her (23:5-10). The younger sister proved still worse. In full-knowledge of he sister’s fate she sought the very lovers who had destroyed her sister (11-13). The language that follows (14-21) is deliberately and shockingly crude (e.g. 23:20) to foreground the extent of her apostacy: her ‘one track’ mind, despite the disgust she had for some of those who ‘bedded’ her (23:17). Her disgust, however, is little compared with her ‘husband’ (23:18) and the like consequence to that of her sister inevitable (22-35): the lovers she despised will prove her nemesis. The final verses (36-49) recapitulate the story, presumably for emphasis and for its conclusion: disregard for the LORD will have its end, but in judgement, for then they will know he is the sovereign one (23:49).

But all such warnings are now too late, as the following chapter (24) notes. Thus, Ezekiel receives a vision on the day that marked the beginning of the end for Jerusalem (15th January 588BC, 24:1,2). It may be that Ezekiel uses a popular piece of doggerel (like ‘Polly, put the kettle on’) but turns it against Jerusalem. The allegory (24:3-5) needs little explanation: Jerusalem is ‘doomed’ like meat in a cauldron. The following verses (24:6-14) pick up the picture to make two points: the contents of the cauldron will be consumed and disposed of (23:6-8) and such will be the heat of the fire that the cauldron itself will melt (23:9-14): neither people nor city has any current ground for hope since the corruption is so deep-seated.

The final paragraph of this long section of the prophecy (chapters 4-24) is full of pathos. On the evening of the day in which Ezekiel declares the previous words, his beloved wife suddenly dies but he is commanded not to grieve for her (24:15-18). His strange conduct will be matched by the people when news of the fall of Jerusalem arrives whose pain will be deep but necessarily mute in the land of the victor (24:19-24). But then, when the news arrives… proved to be the LORD’s spokesperson, Ezekiel will be given a ministry to the Exiles (24:25-27).

1. The problem that led to judgement in these chapters is an insatiable corruption that corroded everything to the core.  What are the characteristic marks of the downward spiral to inevitable judgement that are described here? How may we avoid them ourselves?
2. How, in the light of these chapters, might Ezekiel’s mute suffering in the face of his wife’s death reveal the attitude of the LORD to our own unfaithfulness?


The Book of Ezekiel Study 11 (Chapters 25-32)


The call of Ezekiel (chapters 1-3) is followed by a description of the first stage of his ministry: to declare the judgement of the LORD on Judah and its capital Jerusalem (chapters 4-24). By the time that chapter 24 is concluded, the LORD has revealed to Ezekiel that the final destruction of Jerusalem has commenced and has indicated to him that when the news arrives his own ministry will be vindicated and a new stage of his work will commence.

However, before the messenger arrives, eight chapters of messages that Ezekiel gave at different times are gathered together: oracles addressed to seven nations surrounding Judah: the more traditional ‘sparring partners’ of Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia (chapter 25) and the more distant and, generally, more powerful, Tyre (chapters 27-28:19), Sidon (28:20-24) and Egypt (chapters 29-32). Clearly these chapters heighten the expectation of the awaited news (even though, in actual fact, the dating of them indicates they were given later). However, the key to understanding why Ezekiel or his editor included them here is found in 28:25-26: ‘the house of Israel’ can only live in peace if its enemies are overthrown and the glory of the LORD can only be manifested when he has demonstrated his sovereign right to judge the nations in righteousness. The message of hope, touched on here and expanded in the chapters that follow require, logically, that such righteous acts of judgement precede. Without going into detail here all these judgements did come to pass in the succeeding years and sovereignty lost to every one in the immediately succeeding years.

The fundamental charges raised against the various nations may be identified as pride, delight at the misfortunes of others and the taking advantage of them rather than expressing sympathy and solidarity. In several cases pride is accompanied by an insular attitude: ‘we are all right, it won’t happen to us’ rather than express moral outrage. 

So much for the basic message. But why seven nations and why the highly poetic language of this section (especially in the oracles against Tyre and Egypt? The most likely answer is that ‘seven’ were the number of nations that Israel had to drive out to settle in Canaan (Deuteronomy 7:1) and seven is often a ‘perfect’ number in the Bible and here may symbolise the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’. Linked with this, is the recognition in the Bible that earlier events anticipate the later and greater. Without, therefore, being explicit, these chapters anticipate the greater and final actions of God to establish his reign of peace that will be expanded it later chapters.

What are we to learn here about the relationship between the LORD blessing his people and glorifying himself and judgement?

How and where might we recognise in our world the presence of the attitudes the LORD makes the basis of his judgement here: and can we recognise them in ourselves?

Jesus, shall reign, where’er the sun does his successive journeys run’: so said Isaac Watts. What does this passage teach us about our own hope?


The Book of Ezekiel, Study 12: Chapters 33-34

 

The first 32 chapters of Ezekiel are largely devoted to the threat of judgement against Judah. In 24:1 Ezekiel has been advised by the LORD that the final siege against Jerusalem has commenced… but no news has yet been received of the city’s fall and, to heighten tension and to prepare for the message to follow, chapters 25-32 have been devoted to a collection of oracles against the seven surrounding enemies of the LORD’s people. Now that news is received (33:21f) and what follows is a marked change in Ezekiel’s ministry. Thus, as we shall see, the remainder of the book records the prophet’s messages of the resurrection (chapters 33-39) and consequent new life (chapter 40-48) of the LORD’s people.


But, first, we are provided with a prologue (33:1-20). The prophet is reminded of his God-given responsibility to speak faithfully on the latter’s behalf (33:1-9) and to do so among a people who are ready to place the blame on other than themselves (33:10-20). In the face of such claims the LORD declares through Ezekiel his reluctance to judge and his desire to witness repentance so that they might escape his judgment.

The news that Jerusalem has fallen follows (33:21,22) and, even before the arrival of the minister, Ezekiel is freed from his dumbness to be the minister of the new start. However, first he must deal with two remaining problems. Firstly, he addresses the last few embers of false hope among those few who, yet left in Palestine, appeal on the mere ground of their descent from Abraham that their future is secure. Such are called to face reality in the face: persistence in moral and religious apostasy and self-reliance is no ground for confidence, whatever their spiritual heritage: they are still doomed (33:23-29). Secondly, there is the reaction of his fellow exiles: they may enjoy his preaching as ‘first-class religious entertainment’ but that was all (33:30-33). They, too, must awake to reality before they can be offered a lasting and secure hope!

So hope there is (as the following chapters will demonstrate) but such demands a new and utterly gracious work of God. Specifically, the LORD will shepherd his people through the person of ‘my servant David’: gathering, feeding and healing the scattered and broken and providing them with justice, security and peace (34:11-34): in marked contrast to the contemporary leadership of those whom the LORD abhorred (3:9,10) and were characterised by being self-serving (34:2,3), power-driven (34:4) and disinterested in the fate of their ‘flock’ (34:5,6) who, as a consequence, were prey to the evil forces at work in their world (34:7,8).

Further, this ‘David’ (and his flock) will be heirs of a new covenant and new land. Here the land will be what it was always intended to be: desolate and barren land will no longer be the habitation of wild beasts (34:25,26) but enjoy conditions that will produce seasonable fruitfulness (34:26,27). The inhabitants will be freed from those threats (and even the anxiety) that render such possible and will enjoy true ‘shalom’ with ‘Immanuel’ (God ‘with them’). Heaven on earth will have arrived!

Questions:

* Have these promises been fulfilled yet? If not, to what do they apply?
* Consider the analysis of false leadership offered here: in what ways might it apply to or be seen in the Church today?

The Book of Ezekiel, Study 13: Chapters 35-39


The gloomy chapters recounting the threat of the LORD’s judgement against Judah have come to end end. Jerusalem now lies in ruins (33:21) just as had been threatened. Now Ezekiel’s ministry is one that is re-directed to give hope of resurrection (33-39) and new life (40-48). Already, Ezekiel has promised a new covenant, a new land and a new king…. This is now expanded.

Previously, David had brought peace to the people of God through the subjection of his enemies. A similar fate awaits God’s enemies now (35:1-36:7): among whom Edom is singled out as a typical example of those who had harboured hostility against the LORD (35:13) and his people (35:5) and delighted in its judgement (35:15; 36:5).

Enemies overcome, the land will be permanently re-occupied (36:8-15). Yet this is no mere return to the past and all its failures (36:16-21). Rather, for the sake of his own name (36:22f) and out of sheer grace (36:29-32) the LORD purposes himself to deal with the past (and provide atonement and cleansing (36:24f)) and to secure the future (through that inner work of the Spirit that will produce conformity to the LORD’s will, 36:26f). Then, and only then, Eden will be restored, fellowship with the LORD established and his glory manifested (36:33-38).

Then, nothing short of resurrrection will be experienced by his people (37:1-14), the divided people will be re-united (37:15-23). Thus, under new Davidic leadership, enjoying the full possession of the LORD’s people, they will live under a ‘new’ covenant, enjoy lasting peace and, above all, the divine presence (37:24-28).

Two very strange chapters follow (38,39). In symbolic language a great battle is described. All the enemies of the LORD and his people gather to seek to overthrow them (38:1-17) but will be vanquished before the LORD’s awesome intervention (38:18-23). The utter overthrow of the enemy and its leaders will follow (39:1-8) and the entire land/earth be purged of all that might pollute it (39:9-16), the people of God will enjoy the fruits of the LORD’s victory (39:17-20).

Thus, the victory of God that is celebrated when the sufferings of the LORD’s people will be seen to be occasioned by their sin (39:21-24) and their restoration due to his compassion 39:25). Then, knowing such mercy, his people will forget their shame and delight in his presence through the empowering Spirit (39:26-29).


For reflection:

The universal scope of these chapters (surely) have their fulfilment in nothing else that the ‘new covenant’ inaugurated (and to be completed) by Jesus. Here is one of the greatest passages in the Old Testament that speak of him and his work.  What are the specific lessons that we might learn here about what he has and will yet do in us?

 

The Book of Ezekiel, Study 14: Chapters 40-48


After the fall of Jerusalem (33:21),  Ezekiel’s ministry is re-directed to give hope. Specifically, he offers hope of resurrection to the people of God (33-39) and, now, offers a description of the new life that will follow (40-48). The language is, again, highly symbolic and looks far beyond the mere restoration of the people to Palestine.

This vision is given some years later and is of the new Jerusalem (40:1,2), that the prophet is told to describe in loving detail and for the benefit of his hearers (40:3f). Thus, what immediately follows is something like a guided tour of the new temple area by an angelic being (40-42): the details best envisaged in the accompanying diagram.
Such scrupulous attention might seem tedious, but it echoes the latter chapters in Exodus where, as here, where proper worship is established, the presence of the LORD is, once again, enjoyed (43:1-12, compare, by way of contrast, 8:1-11:25). The ongoing enjoyment of the LORD’s presence is then secured by the proper adminstration of the temple, its services and functionaries and festivals (43:13-46:18), centred on the archetypal prince (44:3 compare 45:7f) and expressed in proper ethical conduct (45:9-12).

At 46:19 the tour resumes. Ezekiel sees the stream issuing from the altar and explores where it goes (46:20-47:12)! Ever growing it brings life to desert and even to the Dead Sea and its waters are universally therapeutic.

The remainder of the book (47:13-48:35) describes the reallocation of the land to the 12 ‘tribes of Israel’ with emphasis prominence being given to the portion of the priests and the prince (48:9-22) and to the fact that every tribe had ‘equal’ access to the city (48:30-35).

Thus, Ezekiel describes a city and land/earth centred around the abiding presence of the LORD and from which flows the resources that bring life to the world. There, too, true worship is offered to him, with the prince the mediator of the free access to God, uniformly offered to all his people.

Reflection:
As with our previous stody (and bearing in mind the symbolic and ‘impossible’ language of the vision) this passage cannot but have its ultimate fulfuilment in the New Covenant… but how?

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