Archive for December, 2016

Ezekiel 7

Ezekiel 7 continues with the prophet gaining more clarity on what is to come.  Many Jews thought that Jerusalem would never be conquered. Ezekiel announced with certainty that the city would fall. God had been longsuffering and merciful, and had saved the city many times, but the people stubbornly refused to repent. Now the time for God’s judgment had come.  “The end is coming….the end is upon you, and I will send My anger against you; I will judge you according to your ways and bring all your abominations upon you”.  It’s definitive and coming soon.

The city is about to fall; rich and poor were about to lose everything. “My eye will have no pity on you, nor will I spare you, but I will bring your ways upon you, and your abominations will be among you; then you will know that I am the Lord”!  Notice what God wants to happen as a result of His punishment?  He wants the people – His people – to know that He is Lord.  They’ve put their trust and worship in idols and themselves.  They’ve pushed God out of their lives and city.  And now, He’s taking back what is His.  He’ll have to use extreme means to get their attention, but God will be God.

Those living in Jerusalem might prepare for battle, but it will be useless. Jerusalem is doomed. People trapped in the city will die of starvation. Those in the fields and villages outside will be killed by enemy soldiers. Anyone who managed to escape will face a miserable existence in their mountain hiding places  “I will repay you according to your ways….you will know that I, the Lord, do the smiting….None of them shall remain, none of their people, none of their wealth, nor anything eminent among them”.

We’re talking complete and total destruction.  Why?  Because they have chosen to disobey a Holy God.  And He is compelled to deal with sin.  “I will bring the worst of the nations, and they will possess their houses. I will also make the pride of the strong ones cease, and their holy places will be profaned. When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there will be none. Disaster will come upon disaster and rumor will be added to rumor; then they will seek a vision from a prophet, but the law will be lost from the priest and counsel from the elders”.  This is a fitting judgment for the intentional sin of the people.  God will not be mocked!

Ezekiel 6

Ezekiel 6 has the prophet having to deliver some difficult words to God’s people.  They are guilty of idolatry and God’s not going to tolerate it.  They had copied Canaanite religious practices. Canaanite gods, collectively known as Baalim (plural of Baal) were gods of nature, and Israelites used the Canaanite shrines throughout the countryside as places to offer worship.  God was not pleased.  “I Myself am going to bring a sword on you, and I will destroy your high places. So your altars will become desolate and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will make your slain fall in front of your idols”.  Judgment will be upon them.

It’s going to be a pretty complete punishment.  “Your works may be blotted out. The slain will fall among you, and you will know that I am the Lord”.  God’s going to deal with his rebellious people in three distinct ways.  “He who is far off will die by the plague, and he who is near will fall by the sword, and he who remains and is besieged will die by the famine”.  But the end result is that the idol worshipping Israelites are going to be judged by Almighty God for their bad choices to worship idols and walk away from God.  He just can’t tolerate that.

There is a sliver of good news. “I will leave a remnant, for you will have those who escaped the sword among the nations when you are scattered among the countries. Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols”.  A few will be taken as captives to foreign countries.  They will realize why they have been punished and will once again turn to God.  This will be the foundation of rebuilding God’s people after judgment is complete.

God reveals why this has to happen as Ezekiel gets the last words for this chapter.  “So throughout all their habitations I will stretch out My hand against them and make the land more desolate….thus they will know that I am the Lord”.  God wants all people, and in particular His people, to know that He is God.  It’s one of the most important things we have on our plate today as Christ Followers – the make God known among the nations.  We do that by how we live and what we say.  It’s important to God, and therefore must be important to us as well.  God is God and we need to let the world know!

Ezekiel 5

Ezekiel 5 has another picture lesson that God asks the prophet to deliver.  Ezekiel shaved his hair, weighed it, then divided it into three equal parts. One part he burnt on his model city of a brick he lay beside each day, symbolizing the death of one third of the city’s people through famine and disease. The second part he scattered around the model city, then chopped up the hair with a sword, symbolizing the slaughter of many in fighting around the city. The third portion he scattered to the wind, symbolizing those who would be taken captive.  “As for you, son of man, take a sharp sword; take and use it as a barber’s razor on your head and beard”.

God had a plan for His people, but they just didn’t get it.  “This is Jerusalem; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her”.  God set Jerusalem and His people up to succeed, but they just didn’t get it.  They made choices to ignore and disobey.  And with that comes a price. But she has rebelled against My ordinances more wickedly than the nations and against My statutes more than the lands which surround her; for they have rejected My ordinances and have not walked in My statutes.  People have made the choice to sin.  And God will respond – He has to because of His holy and just nature.

Because you have more turmoil than the nations which surround you and have not walked in My statutes, nor observed My ordinances, nor observed the ordinances of the nations which surround you….Behold, I, even I, am against you, and I will execute judgments among you in the sight of the nations”.  It didn’t have to be that way.  But the people behaved worse than the heathen nations around them.  God will judge them and it will be harsh and complete.

Sin separates us from God.  It always has, and always will.  Unless we deal with it and restore our relationship, God has no option but to punish us.  “I will also withdraw, and My eye will have no pity and I will not spare. One third of you will die by plague or be consumed by famine among you, one third will fall by the sword around you, and one third I will scatter to every wind”.  No one will be spared.  Sin will be addressed and people will die.  Not because God is mean or likes to hurt people.  But because He is a righteous and holy God who can do nothing less.

God’s people will experience the horrors of this terrible judgment.  “My anger will be spent and I will satisfy My wrath on them, and I will be appeased….it will be a reproach, a reviling, a warning and an object of horror….when I execute judgments against you in anger, wrath and raging rebukes”.  He gets no joy from it, but God must take action based on the wrong action of people.  He is left with no alternative to our choice to sin against Him than to punish us.  That is, unless we receive the grace and mercy of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross through repentance and salvation.

Ezekiel 4

Ezekiel 4 has God instructing the prophet to give a visual lesson around the message he has been trying to portray.  “Now you son of man, get yourself a brick, place it before you and inscribe a city on it, Jerusalem….lay siege against it….raise up a ramp, pitch camps and place battering rams against it all around….and set your face toward it so that it is under siege….This is a sign to the house of Israel”.  Words alone weren’t getting the message across, so God has Ezekiel move to a word picture to describe what is coming.

The message to the exiles was that they had no chance of an early return to Jerusalem. On the contrary, Jerusalem could expect further attack. God would not defend the city; rather he would cut himself off from it. The prophet symbolized the barrier between God and sinful Jerusalem by taking an iron cooking plate and holding it between himself (representing God) and the model of the besieged city.  It’s pretty hard to miss the message with this, but the people didn’t pay attention.

So God has Ezekiel kick it up a notch.  Each day he was to “lie down on your left side and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it; you shall bear their iniquity for the number of days that you lie on it”.  He was bound with cords so that he could not move, to symbolize that God’s people could not escape the judgment of their sins. However, his arm was left bare, to demonstrate God’s determination to fight against Jerusalem.  God’s got the number – “For I have assigned you a number of days corresponding to the years of their iniquity, three hundred and ninety days”.

In the third acted parable, Ezekiel ate a starvation diet each day, to symbolize the scarcity of food and water in Jerusalem during the last great siege.  “Your food which you eat shall be twenty shekels a day by weight; you shall eat it from time to time.  The water you drink shall be the sixth part of a hin by measure; you shall drink it from time to time”.   Ezekiel complained that it was unfair to ask him to use human dung to make the fire, so God allowed him to use cow’s dung instead.  Three very visible ways to make the point he’s been trying to get the people to hear.

Ezekiel 3

Ezekiel 3 has our prophet getting more direction on what God’s expecting him to do.  He is being sent to deliver God’s truth to a very stubborn people.  “Go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them”.  Seems pretty simple doesn’t it.  What God says – Ezekiel is to repeat.  But these people are rebellious and have no interest in hearing what God has to say, so they aren’t doing to treat Ezekiel and his message with open arms.  In fact, God warns him that they not only won’t listen, but that he’ll likely suffer some mistreatment and will need to persevere through it.

There won’t be an issue with them being able to understand the message – that isn’t the issue.  “For you are not being sent to a people of unintelligible speech or difficult language, but to the house of Israel”.  God has equipped Ezekiel with what he needs to deliver the message.  So while it sounds pretty possible that he can do the job, God reminds him that “I have sent you to them who should listen to you….they are not willing to listen to Me”.  The caveat is that they have been unwilling to listen to the Almighty God.  So that makes the assignment seem a bit more overwhelming.  The won’t listen to God, and now Ezekiel gets the unpleasant task of taking God’s truth to them and trying to get them to listen to him.

So the welcome won’t be warm, nor the reception of truth good.  But God only asks Ezekiel to deliver it, not make them listen, believe or obey.  God does warn that they aren’t going to like it and Ezekiel should trust Him for protection.  “Do not be afraid of them or be dismayed before them, though they are a rebellious house”.   And most importantly, God has equipped his prophet with all he needs to succeed.  “Then the Spirit lifted me up….and took me away; and I went embittered in the rage of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord was strong on me”.  God will always equip us with what we need to do His work.  He never sends us out unprepared or without the things we need to be obedient.  If He calls us, He equips us.

God does further explain exactly what He expects from Ezekiel.  “I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me”.  It’s pretty clear what Ezekiel is to do.  God goes on to make it clear what the consequences are if Ezekiel fails – this is high stakes prophecy.  There are two potential outcomes:

  1. Ezekiel fails to tell them the message God gave him to deliver –  “he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand”.
  2. Ezekiel tells them exactly what God has told him to pass on – “if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself”.

This is important stuff, and Ezekiel doesn’t have the option to fail here.  But to make it more challenging, God chooses to allow them to bind him so he can’t go out with them and make his tongue stick to the top of the roof of his mouth so he can’t speak.  He’ll be mute except when God has given him a message to deliver directly to the people.  In other words, there can’t be any priming of the pump or preparation for the message that God will send.  Ezekiel was shown that he must speak God’s message only when God directed him. To emphasize this, God required Ezekiel not to speak or leave his house until God allowed him.  This will all be God, not any fancy work by Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 2

Ezekiel 2 has the prophet standing before God as a common man in the midst of a glorious and almighty God.  Ezekiel is not unique and special, and the text addresses him as a son of man.  “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you”!  God certainly has a job for him to do which is to carry His message to a very rebellious group of people.  “I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day”.  God uses ordinary people to do his extraordinary work.  It’s not going to be as simple as telling them what God says and watching them snap to obedience.

God doesn’t send him in his own strength.  What God originates, God orchestrates.  God tells Ezekiel the key is to represent Him, not try to deal with them without the very power of God.  His personal wellbeing would be at risk here because he has to carry a message they absolutely do not want to hear and definitely do not want to heed.  “I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’”  God captures the state of the situation clearly – these are grownups but they are acting like children.  They are not accidentally disobedient to His ways – they are choosing to do what they want.  Sin is always that way – a choice we make.

Ezekiel’s job is to speak God’s truth.  He is not charged with convincing them.  He is charged with delivering God’s truth and not giving up.  And God challenges him not to get caught up in their wayward choices.  “As for them, whether they listen or not —for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them”.  Ezekiel is not responsible for their reaction to the message – only to deliver it in a way consistent with God’s truth.  “You shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not , for they are rebellious”.  His job is not to convince but to deliver.  We sometimes try and take on God’s role when in fact we can’t be responsible for how others respond to His truth.

Ezekiel has a tough job.  The people don’t want to hear God’s truth and certainly don’t see their sin.  But God helps Ezekiel see things from His perspective and recognize the sin from God’s viewpoint.  “Then I looked, and behold, a hand was extended to me; and lo, a scroll was in it. When He spread it out before me, it was written on the front and back, and written on it were lamentations, mourning and woe”.  God’s word was penetrating his own heart and will give him a mission that drives him to stay the course and work to help people see their situation.  Persistence will be one of his key traits as he serves God as prophet and spokesman.

Ezekiel 1

Ezekiel 1 contains the beginning of God’s call to a new prophet.  “The word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and there the hand of the Lord came upon him”.  God’s Word came directly and expressly to Ezekiel.  And thus begins a new chapter in who will speak God’s truth to the people and record it for all time.  Ezekiel lived in a Jewish settlement that bordered the Chebar River. He had been in Babylon five years and was now thirty years of age, the age at which he normally would have begun his priestly service in the temple in Jerusalem.

But he had no chance now of returning to Jerusalem. The city had been destroyed and most of God’s people captured and spread out. Instead God called him to be a prophet, who would take his message to his people in Babylon.  The call came as Ezekiel was watching a storm approach across the desert. He was looking with particular interest at the startling changes of colour produced across the sky by the reflection of the lightning in the dark thunderclouds. Just then he saw something that appeared to come out of the clouds.  “As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire”.

Ezekiel would soon discover that the object was a fiery chariot, but his first observation was that it was in the shape of a hollow square, with a living creature standing upright at each corner. These living creatures were of an order of heavenly beings known as cherubim.  “Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings”.  Lightning flashed from something that looked like burning coals or a blazing torch.  It had to be quite a sight for the prophet to see and understand.

At each corner of the square was a wheel, which actually looked more like two wheels, one at right angles to the other. By now he could see clearly that the fiery object was a chariot, and the wheels enabled the chariot to move freely in any direction.  “Whenever the living beings moved , the wheels moved with them. And whenever the living beings rose from the earth, the wheels rose also”.  Above the heads of the creatures was a shining platform that supported the throne of God. Seated above this throne and surrounded by a rainbow was a fiery figure, human in outline but so dazzling that Ezekiel could not describe it.  It was the glory of the Lord.  Overcome by this awesome vision, he could only fall down and listen to the voice speaking to him.

Lamentations 5

Lamentations 5 was apparently written in Judah some time after the fall of Jerusalem. Only the people of no use to Babylon were left in the land, and this poem reflects the hardships they faced.  It was a difficult life.  “Our pursuers are at our necks; We are worn out, there is no rest for us”.  There is continual fear and pressure from the oppressors.  There is no rest or peace, only more pain and suffering.  And while the judgment is based on choices each made, there is no question that leaders and fathers were contributors to their plight.

Our fathers sinned, and are no more; It is we who have borne their iniquities”.  In the prior chapters, we learned that leaders led the people astray. Here we find that fathers also sinned and led their kids to grow up with the wrong understanding of God and what He demands.  There was misguided efforts as their fathers followed leaders who tried to keep the nation alive by seeking help from Egypt and Assyria, but they actually brought the nation to ruin. When things get tough we need to run to God, not from him!

Conditions in Judah are terrible. The people have to search the barren country regions for food, and in doing so they risk death from desert bandits .  Life is tough.  “The joy of our hearts has ceased; Our dancing has been turned into mourning”.  They can hardly remember the good old days.  They do understand why things are as they are.  “ Woe to us, for we have sinned”!  Sin carries a price, always.  And the people of Judah were paying a severe price.  “Because of this our heart is faint, Because of these things our eyes are dim”.

In a final desperate plea, the people cry to the sovereign ruler of the world not to reject them but to bring them back to himself. “You, O Lord, rule forever;  Your throne is from generation to generation”. They ask that he restore their nation and give them the happiness they once enjoyed.  “Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored; Renew our days as of old”.  God is eternal and unchangeable, and they are his people; surely he will not forget them .  He doesn’t, and we’ll see in future books of the Bible that God restores them and brings them back together again.

Lamentations 4

Lamentations 4 has the writer recalling Jerusalem’s former glory and contrasting things with her present ruin. The once glorious temple is now defiled and shattered.  “The Lord has accomplished His wrath, He has poured out His fierce anger; and He has kindled a fire in Zion which has consumed its foundations”.  God has destroyed much and done it in a way that when compared to Sodom, which was destroyed in a day, shows how much worse what happened in Jerusalem which was destroyed amid long and bitter agony.

Sin is always a personal thing, but there is also blame around Jerusalem’s downfall that is the result of its corrupt leaders, especially the prophets and priests. “The kings of the earth did not believe, Nor did any of the inhabitants of the world”.  They, more than anyone else, were responsible for the injustices that brought God’s judgment on the city.  Realizing this, the people now treat their former leaders like lepers and drive them out of the city.

Because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests….they wandered, blind, in the streets; they were defiled with blood”.

The writer recalls the history of how Jerusalem expected to be rescued by Egypt, but no deliverance came. They put their hope in something that could not deliver rather than running in repentance to God.  Instead the Babylonians came, making God’s people prisoners in their own city.  Those who tried to flee to the mountains were caught, including the king Zedekiah, in whom the people had falsely placed their trust.  He endured great suffering and his sons were all killed.  But God completed the judgment that had to be delivered because of their sinful choices.

The punishment of your iniquity has been completed, O daughter of Zion; He will exile you no longer. But He will punish your iniquity, O daughter of Edom; He will expose your sins”!  Edom rejoiced to see its ancient enemy Judah overthrown; but Edom too will be overthrown and, unlike Judah, will not rise again. The destruction of Jerusalem is temporary, but Edom’s destruction will be permanent.  God’s people – Judah – will be restored and those who survived will be called back to help rebuild the city of Jerusalem in the future.

Lamentations 3

Lamentations 3 has our prophet taking a different tact in how he writes this chapter.  It is different in style from the previous two. The writer speaks as if he is the representative of all Judah, describing Judah’s sufferings as if they were his own. And those sufferings are God’s righteous judgment on himself as the front of God’s people.  “I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath”.  God has been in judgment mode with his people.  And the weight of that punishment has worn the people, including our writer, down to a point they were desperate for some respite.

To the writer God seems like a wild animal that tears its prey to pieces, or like a hunter who has shot his prey with an arrow.  Life has been difficult.  God may punish, but the writer still trusts in him. He knows that God’s steadfast love does not change. It is constant and reliable. God disciplines and trains, but those who are patient will enjoy the fullness of his salvation.  “Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,  For His compassions never fail”.

God never leaves us.  Our choices and sin gets in the way and causes a rift in our relationship with God.  But it never changes the fact that God loves us.  He never gives up and is waiting when we come back to Him in humility with a surrendered spirit.  Each day is a new opportunity to come back to Him.  “They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him”.  We have to make the effort to return – to take the first step to confess, repent and receive His forgiveness and salvation.

And that’s how it happens.  We recognize that sin creates a gap in our relationship with God.  “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord….We have transgressed and rebelled, you have not pardoned”.  The writer knows sin is a problem.  He confesses that it has been a barrier between him and God, preventing God from hearing his prayers for mercy. As a result he has been ruined and disgraced.  “You have covered Yourself with anger and pursued us; You have slain and have not spared. You have covered Yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through”.  But God is always waiting for us to return.  Jesus was sent to help us do that.  We have to take the steps to receive His grace and mercy!

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