Sunday, July 27, 2014

This Week in Ezekiel (1-19)

Ezekiel ChartThe key themes in the prophecy of Ezekiel are God’s Glory and God’s Presence. The book is balanced by God’s glory leaving Jerusalem in judgment at the beginning of the book and returning in restoration at the end. It points out that the most important blessing God gives is the blessing of His Presence with us. All other blessings flow from that. Judgment is mainly the withdrawal of his Presence and subsequent loss of protection and relationship with God. Ezekiel emphasizes over and over that God does not desire to judge us (withdraw from us) but it is our desire to go our own way that causes Him to withdraw. He is always ready to return when we repent and desire relationship with Him. Thus, the message of the 1st half of Ezekiel is that Judah and its people are responsible for the troubles happening to them because of their rejection of God and His covenant. Judgment is coming but repentance will bring restoration after the exile.

Quotes are from the New American Commentary – Ezekiel by Lamar Eugene Cooper…

When people are consumed by insurmountable problems and buffeted by the storms of life, they usually do not need another perspective on their problems. What they do need is a new perspective on God as Lord of life and larger than all its difficulties. Humanity in peril needs a sense of the awesome majesty of God. There needs to be an awareness that God is greater than adversity. He is with his people in the midst of their problems. Ezekiel 1.28, 72.

The measure of success in God’s work is not always in terms of the amount and frequency of visible response. Success is to be measured in terms of our obedience to the words, commands, and will of God regardless of the visible results. So the mission of the prophet was to proclaim the word of God to a rebellious and unresponsive Israel. Ezekiel 2.6-7, 77.

This is the key issue in the book. The most important thing in our lives is our relationship with God and our success is determined by our faithfulness to the mission he has called us to live out.

As a prophet in the midst of the people, he was able to identify their needs and feel the weight of impending judgment. It is a reminder that we must identify with the needs of those who search for God. While we do not participate with them in a godless lifestyle, we must seek to understand their emptiness and alienation if we are to be effective communicators of the words of God.  Ezekiel 3.11-15, 83.

This is what keeps God’s spokesman from being a condemning judge. Ezekiel told the truth to encourage repentance, not to condemn.

Neglect of the word produced a famine both of food and of the knowledge of God and spiritual truths. Second, the reaction of the prophet came not because of his view of the defilement of sin but because of his training as a priest. This was God’s way of reminding Ezekiel and Israel that they were more sensitive to regulations than to the violation of their relationship with God. Ezekiel 4.12-15, 97–98.

Israel was set in the “midst” of the nations as a kingdom of priests, and thus they were supposed to be instruments of God’s missionary purpose. But the nation dwelt on the privilege of being God’s chosen people rather than on their responsibilities. The nationalistic spirit created an isolationism that can be seen in the example of Jonah.Eventually the New Testament church was endowed with the missionary assignment originally planned for Israel.  Ezekiel 5.5-6, 102.

The point, of course, was that people will know him either through response to his loving attempts of salvation and fellowship or through judgment. God’s preference, as that of the prophets, was the former. Ezekiel 6, 109–110.

Material things will be of no value in a time of divine judgment. Unbridled materialism and secularism that divorces God from human society tends only to intensify judgment. Ezekiel 7, 113.

Judah failed to keep covenant with God because they substituted ritual for heartfelt obedience and saw God’s blessings as deserved rather than a gift of grace. This led to nationalism, materialism and a sense of entitlement to God’s blessing. This is always a temptation to God’s people, especially when God’s blessing brings them prosperity. We tend to love the blessing rather than God. This is the grave danger facing the church today. We tend to love prosperity and use it to benefit ourselves instead of God’s kingdom. We worship celebrity and wealth. As with Israel and Judah this can only lead to judgment that removes all these things and directs us back to God.

We may suppose, in fact, that violence always brings him grief (cf. Gen 6:11). God does not consider insignificant these violations of his holiness. These people provoked his anger and invited his judgment by their highly repugnant behavior. Ezekiel 8, 124.

In response to Ezekiel’s plea for mercy, God reminded him that there was a just and equitable basis for the punishment he had witnessed. Their sin literally “wickedness,” was great, the land was filled with violence and bloodshed, and the city was filled with injustice. Therefore there would be no relaxation of judgment. Ezekiel 9, 128.

God always judges based on behavior, and often the consequences of the behavior become the judgment as God withdraws his protective presence. The love of wealth (as above) seems to always slide down into violence and immorality and thus, bring down the judgment of God.

Craigie sees two new perspectives added by these verses. First, the judgment of God cannot be distinguished from the glory of God. The presence of the glory of God demands purity and purging to produce holiness... Second, judgment of the temple and Jerusalem was marked by the departure of God. The most severe aspect of God’s judgment was his absence from among his people. Ezekiel 10.3-8, 131.

The remnant would be made up of those who repented and returned to the standard of the single heart. Single-hearted devotion is what God expects from us. Whenever we fail to give him our single-hearted commitment, we invite the chastening of God. Ezekiel 11.17-21, 144.

God’s holy character necessitates his judgment. God’s character also necessitates his forgiveness, but the standard God requires from us is that we love him with all our heart.

These verses demonstrate that there are many ways to despise God’s word, whether by outright denial or by diverting its message to other times and applications. Ezekiel 12.26-28, 153.

In days of moral crisis there are always those who seek personal profit by establishing counterfeit ministries, who preach man-made systems instead of divine truth, proclaim peace instead of repentance, use materialistic methods, and set up idols in human hearts. Ezekiel 13, 158.

This prophecy warned that those who patronized false prophets would share in the same judgment that would befall them. Ezekiel pointed out that those who frequented these prophets were responsible for their apparent success. If they had not traded on the lies of these false representatives of God, there would have been no market for their services. Their practices would have long since ceased. Ezekiel 14.1-11, 159.

One of the ways that we are tempted to turn away from our heartfelt devotion to God is through twisting of His Word. God is often denied by people who claim his name. We need to be very careful that we know the word and can distinguish the true from the false. The worship of idols seems to be the sin that God hates most and we are very good at setting up false gods in our hearts. We love gods who do our will instead of doing the will of God.

The presence of godly people in society will not alone deter deserved judgment. People must respond personally to God by confession, repentance, and faith.  Ezekiel 14.12-23, 164.

Without God no individual or nation will ever realize their true potential or purpose. Like an unproductive vine, they have no purpose beyond fruitbearing. When they bear no fruit, they are replaced. Ezekiel 15, 167.

Personal responsibility is a major emphasis in Ezekiel. No matter what is going on around us we are responsible for our own decisions and our own responses to God. As Christians we will be judged based on our contribution to God’s mission in the world.

Israel was the orphan who became a queen. All the figures used in the description were reminders of the providential care God gave Israel from the time of Abraham to nationhood and onward...The love and compassion of God offers hope to those ruined by sin.... God transforms the lives of those who respond to his love. They become new creatures, enfranchised as the people of God.  Ezekiel 16.1-14, 170.

Because Judah had exceeded the sins of Sodom and Samaria, any hope of restoration also must include them, since God is just (v. 53). Ezekiel envisioned not only their restoration but also that it would take precedence over that of Judah...Sodom, then, may represent the Gentile peoples whose widespread repentance is predicted elsewhere. “In His mercy He has even loved the ‘citizens of Sodom,’ as it were. And they are we!” Ezekiel 16.53-58, 177–178.

God’s establishing his covenant with his rebellious people will be based on his all-important work of atonement, not overlooking but covering their sin by his marvelous grace. Israel’s departure from God had come because they had failed to remember who they were in relationship to him (15:2). But as a result of his atoning work, they would remember and return in humility and gratitude. The grace of God always is available to those who repent. God will remove the guilt of sin and will heal, forgive, and save people and nations. Ezekiel 16.62, 179.

With very graphic, even obscene, language Ezekiel portrays the unfaithfulness of the nation as the worst kind of adultery. The parable here portrays the history of Israel in terms of a marriage relationship with God. Israel starts off as an unwanted, abandoned orphan who God, the king, takes in, provides for and marries,making her a queen. Instead of faithfully loving God, she takes all his good blessings and uses them to draw lovers into multiple affairs. Instead of trusting her king-husband she tries to make her way by seducing the nations. This leads to captivity. But this is not the end of the story. When she repents God restores her to her place. The thing that really stuck out to me here was the idea that we (Gentiles) are Sodom and we share in this blessing only through God’s grace.

Planted on the highest mountain in Israel, his people will flourish beyond anything they experienced in the past and will furnish shelter to “birds of every kind” (v. 23). Furthermore, “all the trees of the field,” that is, all nations, will acknowledge what Yahweh has done in humbling the proud and in exalting and restoring languishing Israel and the Davidic line in the Messiah (v. 24). Ezekiel 18.23-24, 184.

Individually each person is responsible for his or her own guilt of sin. But we must always be aware that the consequences of sin will affect others who may be innocent of the guilt for that particular sin. This is true even when the sin is forgiven. God promised to remove the guilt of sin, but most often the consequences remain. Ezekiel 18, 189–190.

Thus the exile in Babylon is depicted, the Israelite monarchy apparently a thing of the past. The first poem (vv. 1–9) laments the end of two kings of Judah; the second poem (vv. 10–14) laments the end of kingship itself. Ezekiel 19, 197.

This section (12-19) lists the reasons why God was just to bring Judah into judgment and exile in Babylon. The worshipped idols and they believed lies. They tried to abdicate the responsibility for sin but God would not let them. Though there was hope for the remnant (in Babylon) that repented, Judah and Jerusalem would never regain the prestige and prosperity they enjoyed under the Davidic monarchs. God would keep his promise to David, but Ezekiel hints that it would be done in an unexpected way.

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