Archive for December, 2013

Ezekiel 43

Ezekiel 43 has the prophet experiencing the glory of God returning to the temple.  “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory”.  God approaches and Ezekiel “fell on my face”.  Do you have that kind of respect for God?  Do you fear Him and realize just how powerful and worthy He is of our praise.  Often we have this picture of God as some old guy sitting in a big throne up there someplace in the sky who is our best friend and genie for prayer requests.

That isn’t how Ezekiel sees Him.  Nor should it be the way we do either.  The prophet sees God enter and fill the temple with His glory.  God lets Ezekiel know that this is where the throne will sit and where “I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever”.  What a promise from God – that He will be with his people forever.  Ezekiel’s task is to “write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out”.  He is to be the messenger of God’s plan for His people as He restores them to Himself and their land.

Ezekiel records the history of God’s people and their sin.  And he spells out the punishment that sin resulted in for God’s people.  He wrote his book during one of the worst periods of Israel’s history, and as he gets this last vision, things seem pretty hopeless.  But the vision is a promise that gives hope.  God’s glory had left the original temple back in chapter 10.  God distanced Himself from His people because of their sin, and they went through decades without His presence being punished and captured and destroyed by their enemies because of their choice to turn and live without God.

In this vision, Ezekiel sees God’s glory return by the same gate it had left.  God never stopped caring about His people.  They lived apart from Him in exile, but He never stopped loving them and waited patiently for them to return.  He still wanted to live among them.  He still wanted them to get back to right relationship and make Him their God.  He will bring back a new relationship between Himself and His people.  Attitudes have to change and sin has to stop but God gives a promise and hope through this vision of a temple to come and restore His glory to their presence.

Ezekiel 42

Ezekiel 42 has the prophet continuing to describe the new temple with a focus on the buildings for the priests.  He has been inside the temple building, but is now led outside describing what he was shown in the rooms that were between the temple’s outer and inner areas.  There were two large buildings on the north side, wider at ground level than they were on the higher floors.  There was a path between the two buildings.  The building by the temple was twice the length of the other, and no one entered the buildings from the outer area.

There were also buildings on the south side which basically matched those on the north.  Besides serving as chambers for the priests, these buildings served as a limit for where people can go in the temple area.  Ordinary people are not to come close to the inner area, and these buildings prevent those who might think they can approach God themselves directly from making that mistake.  Only priests can enter these areas.  God provides enough rooms for all the people who will serve Him in the temple.

We get some glimpse of the purpose of the rooms.  “The priests who approach the Lord shall eat the most holy offerings”.  The priests would eat some parts of the sacrifices. These sacrifices were holy. So the priests ate them as part of their sacred duties and could not take them out of the temple.  They could not eat it in a public area either, so this was their special area where priests could eat.  It is always necessary to keep holy things separate from the ordinary.  Anything that belongs to God is special and needs to be kept apart.

The last section of this chapter has Ezekiel exiting the temple area via the east gate.  This was done so that he could get an overall view of the temple and discover that the design was perfect.  Each was was exactly the same length.  The entire area was a square.  Ezekiel saw the reason for the wall to “make a separation between the holy and the common”.  This temple design pleased God.  Every detail gave honor to Him.  The design separates the holy from unholy and there is a proper place for sacrifice and worship just as God desires.  This temple design serves the people and priests well while honoring God for who He is!

Ezekiel 41

Ezekiel 41 continues the exploration and measurement of the temple area, with the focus now being on the temple building.  “This is the Most Holy Place and was only to be entered by the priests.  They could not enter whenever they chose. They entered on the special occasions when they had duties there.  The purpose of the ‘temple’ was for worship, the kind of worship that is an expression of love. On behalf of the people, the priests showed their love for God when they carried out their duties in the holy place. But God also showed his love for his people here. He showed his love because his glory was present in the most holy place.

The first part of the chapter describes the temple area.  The angel took Ezekiel to see the outside of the temple building. On three sides of the temple building were small rooms for the priests to use. These rooms were not part of the temple building although they leaned upon it.  The building that contained these rooms was on three floors. So it was a high building by the standards when Ezekiel was alive. And although the rooms were small, there were many of them. Ezekiel counted a total of 90 rooms. We cannot be sure about the purpose of these rooms. But we do know that the original temple had similar rooms. And their construction was similar too.

Then the prophet moves inside the temple building itself, which is the holy place.  The rest of the chapter is focused on describing that place.  Ezekiel was describing the perfect temple. We might imagine such a building would also be extravagant. But it isn’t described as such. Ezekiel did not mention any gold, which would be a very significant difference from the temple he experienced and wrote about in the early chapters of his book. Ezekiel’s temple did not need any gold to make it great. This temple was great because God was present there. And it was great because God’s people were loyal to him there.

As Ezekiel continues to describe the inside of this temple building, there is only one item mentioned, “an altar of wood….the table that is before the Lord”.  Seems pretty plain, yet the temple building had one purpose, it was a place to worship God.  Priests were to enter the temple building and carry out their particular duty of worship.  They didn’t stay long in there.  They were to do their work and then leave.  Simplicity makes it simpler to keep our eyes on the One we are to worship.  Today we have far too many distractions in our world as we try to worship.  Do you have a quiet and simple place you can get away to in order to talk with God and worship Him?  We need to learn from Ezekiel’s temple and create an environment that allows us to truly be in God’s presence!

Ezekiel 40

Ezekiel 40 has the prophet receiving yet another vision from God – this time about the building of the temple.  It will be the theme for the next half dozen chapters, as God reveals clearly to Ezekiel how the temple is to be built.  You might call this chapter to be about the prophet with a measuring stick as it is filled with details of how the building should come together.  Once again, he says “the hand of the Lord was upon me”.  Often the word of the Lord came to him, but this time it appears to be a bit different.

If you recall the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, he is taken and shown his life in the past.  Ezekiel tells us that he is taken by the Lord and shown what the temple should be like in the future.  “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel”.  God doesn’t just give Ezekiel a vision this time.  It is more powerful than a dream.  Ezekiel experiences the temple and its details first hand.

We could get all wrapped up in the cubits and the reeds (a reed is six long cubits) but it doesn’t connect with my simple brain.  Throughout these chapters, Ezekiel gives 318 precise measurements using 37 unique words according to scholars.  This is one very defined temple plan.  This temple is different from the one that Ezekiel described in chapters 8-11 which was the temple of his day.  This one refers to the temple yet to come, and the amazing thing is the divine perfection of the measurements.

It is a very beautiful design, and God is meticulous in measuring each and every key area.  The design in this chapter talks to the gates that open to the temple, the outer area, the inner area and the rooms for the priests.  Before Ezekiel went into the temple, he had to see the place of sacrifice. A person can only worship God properly after God has forgiven that person’s sins. Sacrifices were necessary so that God would forgive the people’s sins. This principle is still true today. People cannot achieve a right relationship with God by their own efforts. They can only humbly confess their sins to God, repent, and receive forgiveness through the blood of Christ today.  But the principle of sacrifice is still true.  The change from Ezekiel’s day is that Jesus went to the Cross as the sacrifice for all mankind.  All we have to do is receive His gift of grace.

Ezekiel 39

Ezekiel 39 has the prophet continuing to wail against Gog and the land of Magog where God is going to do a mighty work.  For many years, God’s children have been the punching bag of many nations.  They have been captured and moved and their spoils taken.  But God is going to change all that.  He is going to restore His children “And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel”.

God is going to make His name known.  That is one of the key things that God desires – that we know Him.  And that time is coming according to the prophet here.  God will take action and “it will bring them renown on the day that I show my glory”.  The glory of God will shine and people everywhere will know that He is God.  There will be no wondering.  There will be no doubt.  God will show His glory and overcome all those who have caused pain and suffering on His children as He restores them as a nation.

It is a time of coming together, and remembering just who God is.  “The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God, from that day forward”.  It is a turning point in history, when God’s power is again used for the nation of Israel and they are brought back together.  But the reason is not that they can have the things of old, but that they will know God.  The reason is clear – God wants His people, and all people to know Him.  He wants everyone to be very clear that He alone is God.

Ezekiel reminds us clearly why this happened in the first place.  “I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their transgressions, and hid my face from them”.  Sin was the cause of God’s choice to leave them on their own to face the punishment of many nations.  Sin is a real problem for us as humans.  It separates us from God until we deal with it through self examination, confession and repentance.  Jesus died to cover our sin, but we have to come to Him to receive that grace.  Don’t let sin separate you from God.  Deal with it so you can know God and experience His goodness and grace!

Ezekiel 38

Ezekiel 38 has the prophet getting a word from the Lord about Gog, of the land of Magog.  Bible scholars are not exactly sure what this prophecy actually refers to.  It appears to be that Israel will be reborn as a country in the last days, the Jewish people will come back to the Holy Land from exile all over the world, the Jewish people will rebuild the ancient ruins and make the deserts bloom again. These things have all happened, and this suggests we are getting closer to the fulfillment of the next set of prophecies.

There are a number of views about how this will happen.  But in general, scholars agree that “Gog” is the prince, “Magog“, his land.  This prophecy will be fulfilled by Gog, who is felt by some commentators to be a personal name, whereas others see it more as a title like “Czar” or “dictator”. Gog clearly appears to describe a political and/or military leader and thus suggests an individual is in view. There likely will be a leader that will come and pursue the children of Israel and attempt to wipe them out.

This leader is going to assemble all the armies from the region and come after God’s people.  They will be confident and come after them to take great spoil.  It will seem like a simple plan and approach – after all the size of the enemies armies will be immense and will come from all directions.  But they are miscalculating the one factor that gives God’s children the advantage – God’s power and protection.  When Gog’s armies come, God says “my wrath will be roused in my anger”.

When God takes action, everyone knows.  Scripture tells us there will be earthquakes and even the birds and beasts will quake.  God is someone to be feared, especially when He is angry.  And Gog will feel that anger.  God will summon all His power against these evil enemies and He will deal with the enemy with “pestilence and bloodshed”.  God is not tolerant.  He will do what He says.  “I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord”.  This prophecy continues in the next chapter…..

Ezekiel 37

Ezekiel 37 has the prophet getting a direct touch from God.  “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord”.  Ezekiel is going to have a different experience this day.  God brings him to the middle of the valley and it was full of “dry bones”.  And God tells Ezekiel to prophecy over these dry bones and tell them to connect and rise up.  And then God tells him to prophecy and breathe life into them, and “they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army”.  Can you imagine?

I don’t know what a zombie apocalypse might be like, but this had to be close.  The valley is covered with dry, fragile bones that had been lying there for years.  They were as far from life as you could get.  But God is greater than that.  He is able to take what seems impossible and make it so.  And Ezekiel is the messenger that carries God message and brings those dry bones to life.  “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord”.  This is what God desires.  That we be filled with His Spirit and alive in Him.

God is about restoring us to right relationship with Him.  He wants to change our lives.  And for the children of Israel, who had been captured and punished and destroyed by nations all around them, God has a plan.  “I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God”.  God has a plan for you and me too, and it is much the same.  He wants to bring us back to right relationship with Him.  He wants to cleanse our sin and restore us to holiness and godliness.

That is why Jesus Christ came to this earth.  Are you ready to confess your sin, repent of those sinful ways, and walk with God?  He wants to save us.  We just need to receive His grace!  There is no better time than this holiday season to receive the best gift of all – the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  God has it wrapped and under the tree for each one of us.  The only question is – will we open it.  Will we receive God’s gift and take it as our own.  Jesus came to a manger to become the sacrifice on a cross that would give us eternal life.  But we have to claim that gift.  We have to unwrap His love and make it ours.  Don’t wait another Christmas.  Christ came to save each of us today!

Ezekiel 36

Ezekiel 36 turns the prophet’s attention to the “mountains of Israel” which are symbolic of God’s people as it is where they lived.  This chapter focuses on the distinction between God’s people and evil, and the key is the covenant relationship God has with His people.  They have gone through decades of captivity and punishment for their sin, but God is moving past that now.  He is going to restore their kingdom and bring them back together from their scattered lands.  “But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home”.

This is a very personal thing for God.  “I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown….I will multiply people on you….I will multiply on you man and beast….I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times….I will let people walk on you”.  God is going to restore life to the kingdom of His people.  His people had been scattered and suffered because “they defiled it by their ways and their deeds”.  Disobedience caused Him to allow other nations to capture and remove His children.  But now He is returning to the covenant He has made.

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land….I will cleanse you….I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you….I will remove the heart of stone….give you a heart of flesh….I will put my Spirit within you….cause you to walk in my statutes….be careful to obey my rules….you shall be my people, and I will be your God”.  Do you sense the intimacy with which God is going to restore things?  God is coming to them and restoring them to His presence and His protection.

So why, after all these years, does God decide to take action?  The answer may not be what you expect.  It isn’t because they continue to cry out to Him for mercy.  It isn’t because God feels sorry for them.  So why?  “I will vindicate the holiness of my great name….It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you”.  It really isn’t about them at all.  It is about God and His faithfulness to the covenant He made. It is about God and His holiness and the fact that He wants the world to know He does what He says.  “Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations….Then they will know that I am the Lord”.  It is about people knowing Him and His name.  This is about God, not man, and His being God.  He still is.  Praise God for being who He is!

Ezekiel 35

Ezekiel 35 begins like most of the rest of the chapters in this book.  “The word or the Lord came to me”.  What an example of a relationship with God.  The prophet is tuned in.  He hears from God all the time.  And God continues to speak truth to Ezekiel because he takes it and does as God asks, he delivers the news to those who it is intended whether it is easy to do or not.  He speaks truth when no one wants to listen, and when it endangers his personal well being.  Ezekiel is obedient.  And because of that, God continues to use him to change the world.

Are you the kind of person God uses?  Scripture is filled with lessons about those kinds of folks.  God isn’t looking for perfect people – there has been only one and His name is Jesus.  But God does look for people that understand who He is, and are willing to walk in obedience to His leading.  He has used murderers and adulterers and liars and thieves.  All have sinned, so God isn’t looking for us to be perfect, but He is looking for repentance and obedience to His leading.  Are you that person?  Are you someone God can use?

God again tells us why the people of Mount Seir are on the chopping block.  They “magnified yourselves against me with your mouth, and multiplied your words against me; I heard it”.  Pride and self cause us to miss so much.  These people pursued and captured the children of God.  They were evil and said “These two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will take possession of them”.  Their actions proved to be the cause of this final blow from God.  We won’t get around messing with His plans.

God wants to use us in our patch today.  But when we allow self, and pride and any number of other sins to get in the way of our walk and obedience to Him, we miss that chance to be used by Him.  When we put self on the throne and push Him to the side, we aren’t an instrument that He can pick up and use to change the world.  So before we start pointing fingers at God and asking how come He never talks to us like He did many in scripture, we need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are the kind of person God uses.  Is our heart right?  Are our actions in obedience to what we already know He wants us to do?  If we haven’t obeyed what we already know, why would He give us more?  Take a look.  Are you the kind of person God uses?

Ezekiel 34

Ezekiel 34 has a big change of focus for the prophet.  The last number of chapters have been around God’s destruction and punishment of the evil nations, and how He is going to clean things up and make them right.  Now, He moves to a focus on the ‘shepherds’ that are to be taking care of His flock or His people.  And while the target has changed, the intensity certainly has not.  “Shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep”?  God is not pleased with the way the rulers have been focused on their own selfish motives rather than the good of the people.

No sugar coating here.  “You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep”.  The truth is that those in power thought first and only about their own well being.  They took the luxury of ignoring what was good for those they should have been serving, and used it all for themselves.  God cares about the sheep.  That is why the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ, came to the world.  But these guys were just feeding their own egos and bellies.  It may not be all that different than many rulers today.

So how should a leader really lead?  God makes it clear what is expected.  “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them”.  You have to take care of the sheep.  You don’t spend your time focused on self and what you can get out of leadership personally.  You focus on the needs of the sheep and care for them.  It is about where you focus and put priority.  Too many leaders start with self.  God always starts with others.

But He is clear, that when a ruler/leader isn’t doing their job, He is paying attention and will act.  “I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out”.  God will care for His children.  He won’t just sit back and hope for change.  He will take action.  “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep….I myself will make them lie down….I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed….I will bind up the injured….I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy…I will feed them in justice”.  He sent Jesus for this very reason – to serve and save the lost and to bring them to salvation through His free gift of grace.  God really shows us what servant leadership looks like.  We need to read and understand this well!

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