Sunday, August 03, 2014

This Week in Ezekiel (20-34)

Ezekiel ChartThis week’s section in Ezekiel spans all three of the major sections of the book. We get the conclusion, in 20-24, of the first section of the book in which Ezekiel prophesies the complete destruction of Jerusalem to the Jewish exiles in Babylon who were confident that the exile would be very temporary. Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel gives them the bad news that the exile will be long and will be a full purging and discipline for the sins of Judah and Israel. The main part of this week’s reading is a section of prophecies against the nations surrounding Judah. The point of this section is that the Gentile nations and the spiritual forces behind them will be judged so that they will also acknowledge God as their Lord and recognize his sovereignty over all the nations. This would also encourage Israel to quit making alliances with other nations and to trust God alone for their well-being. Finally chapter 33-34 introduce the final section of the book in which Ezekiel prophesies the final restoration of Israel, the new covenant and the inclusion of all the world in God’s blessing as he comes himself to rule the world in his marvelous kingdom.

This week the quotes are from The New American Commentary Ezekiel, by Lamar Eugene Cooper.

God instructed Ezekiel to tell these elders to listen to the record of the past sins of Israel, which the prophet was going to rehearse for them. God’s judgment is never capricious. He always brings judgment in response to disobedience and unfaithfulness; thus it is always deserved judgment. Ezekiel 20.1-4, 200.

God’s motive for judgment in this life is always redemptive (20:40–44). He never judges vindictively but always with the desire to bring the rebellious to repentance, faith, and purity of life so that he may bless them and they may be a blessing to others. Ezekiel 20.40-44, 208.

Judgment of sin is a prerequisite to blessing. The wrath of God’s judgment precedes the restoration of his blessings and the fulfillment of his promises. This pattern was true for Ezekiel’s day, and it is also the pattern of the end time when God will purge the earth (Rev 17–18) in preparation for the rule of the Messiah. Ezekiel 20.45-49, 209.

Those who receive more light, such as Judah and Jerusalem, also would be held to a greater accountability for their knowledge and failure to follow it or share it. God knows about specific sins and will hold all people responsible for repentance and faith. Ezekiel 22.1-5, 217–218.

Like Judah, the countries of the Western world are wallowing in a morass of their own making. Some groups are concerned about injustice, violence, pornography, and crime; but their best efforts seem devoted to fighting it and banning it. While this is commendable, it should be done along with denouncing it as primarily anti-God and then working for a spiritual revival that will counter it. Ezekiel 22.29, 223.

God’s plan for reaching ungodly people and nations is still the same. He uses godly men and women to stand in the breaches in morality and spirituality and make the difference by calling the nation and individuals to repentance, faith, righteousness, and commitment to God in Christ. Ezekiel 22.30-31, 224.

Ezekiel is consistent with all the other prophets in announcing that God’s judgment always begins with God’s people. We need to point the finger at ourselves before we point it at others. Our job is not to condemn, but to bring God’s Presence into the situation and call for repentance and transformation.

Nations who rely on political agreements and military might alone to sustain their security will ultimately incur the judgment of God for failure to allow him to have first place in their commitments (vv. 1–15). Judgment often comes by the very nations in which trust was placed as a false sense of security. Ezekiel 22.23-27, 231.

God demands holiness and a standard of righteousness that will reveal his love and his character to all people (23:36–49). He demands the standards of holiness that are found in the demands of the law (Exod 20:1–17). They are to be lived out in the daily lives of his people (cf. Matt 5–7). Ezekiel 23, 234.

God is not the author of personal tragedy, but he does often use such experiences as unique opportunities and special windows through which people will come to “know” that he is the Lord. Such a knowledge of God tells of his grace, mercy, love, and blessing but also his wrath, resolve, and determination to deal with sin that brought death into the world. Ezekiel 24.25-27, 240.

God calls human beings to a standard that can be lived out only in close relationship and dependence on him. Our rebellion is to deny this and try to gain blessing in life apart from God. Judgment and discipline are designed by God to call us back into the relationship for which we were created.

Those who oppose God and his people never gain by their opposition. The prophecies against foreign nations show both God’s concern for the redemption of all people and his determination to judge sin wherever and whenever the standards of his word are violated (25:1–32:32).  Ezekiel 25, 250.

Nations who distinguish themselves as special centers of evil and ungodliness receive special attention as objects of God’s judgment. Such nations in history also received special attention in the Word of God. Tyre, Egypt, and Babylon all share this dubious distinction. Egypt was used as a byword for the slavery of sin, immorality, and idolatry. Babylon is a byword for godless government, and Tyre is a byword for pride and self-sufficiency. Ezekiel 26:1–6., 253.

Those who place their dependence on the power and wealth of God’s opponents will suffer irreparable loss. God alone is a resource who never fails (26:19–27:36). People and nations who reject him not only can but will ultimately fail. Ezekiel 27, 259.

The king of Tyre did possess wisdom, but it was wisdom related to making money. He was doubtless a skilled trader, merchant, and businessman. But because of his material success he had grown proud and self-sufficient. God warned Israel in the wilderness about such arrogant self-sufficiency... Although wealth is not inherently evil, it contains in it the seeds of destruction if one fails to acknowledge it as a gift of God. Ezekiel 28.4-5, 262–263.

God’s judgment is often just allowing the natural consequences of human choices and rebellion to have their full effect. When human beings deny their need for God, God will let them experience life without God (in other words “hell”). Even when Christians deny God by trusting in wealth or power etc. they experience death (apartness from God) as a consequence of those choices.

Spiritual pride always produces a self-sufficient attitude of rebellion against God and opposition to his people and his work (2 Chr 26:16). Those nations who have championed idolatry and immorality and used their influence to subvert the work of God will be especially marked for judgment.  Ezekiel 29, 274.

Egypt’s devastation and its loss of standing in the family of nations is a constant testimony to the truth of God’s word (30:1–19). The great civilization would exist only in ruins and in historical records (30:20–26). Ezekiel 30, 281.

The story of the cedar revisits several familiar themes that occurred in the prophecies against foreign nations. First, God hates pride because it leads people and nations to ruin. Second, the mighty fall as do the weak. When the mighty fall, it is also a loss for the weak and dependent. Third, the fall of the tree was a reminder of the mortality of human beings and individual accountability to God. Ezekiel 31, 284.

Human rebellion is ultimately idolatry which replaces God with self and its pride and desires. God must judge this because the consequences of idolatry always destroy what God intends for his creation, hurts his people, and brings death.

First, the oracles in Ezek 25–32 reveal God’s judgment against the nations that either mocked or aided in Jerusalem’s fall. Second, as with both the king of Tyre and the Pharaoh of Egypt, God would throw them down from their self-elevated positions of power—there is no room for such arrogance and pride in God’s creation. Third, the oracles are essentially a dismantling of the gods of the nations, which is in turn a dismantling of the gods Judah had begun to rely wrongly upon, and the proclamation that Yahweh is the one and only true God for all nations. Ezekiel 32, 289.

The phrase “know I am the LORD” occurs nineteen times. The primary purpose of these oracles is that everyone should come to “know the LORD.” Ezekiel, 289.

Ultimately, what is best for everyone is to know God their Creator and live in His blessings. Everything God does is toward that end. God desires to reveal himself so we can know him and glorify him.

Against the background of Israel’s refusal to heed the watchman’s warning and of the clear vindication of his message of judgment in the fall of Jerusalem, Ezekiel’s ministry and messages turned to a theme of hope and restoration...Out of the despair of the exile, Ezekiel had the opportunity to introduce the truth about the coming Messiah, who would be a servant-shepherd and set up a glorious new kingdom. Ezekiel 33, 290–292.

This message also summarized the principles of the new kingdom: (1) God desired that all people should live (v. 11); (2) the new kingdom would be populated by those who enter by choice as individuals (v. 12); (3) the conditions for entering the kingdom were repentance and faith (vv. 14–16); (4) individuals are free to chose repentance or continue their evil lives (vv. 17–20). Ezekiel 33, 292–293.

Only God and his Messiah (v. 23) would be the “Shepherd” of his people. This message of hope is a glaring contrast with the picture in 34:1–15 with its message of the neglect and exploitation of human kings. The proliferation of “I wills” in 34:10–29 suggests Yahweh’s determination personally to be involved in the lives and destinies of his people.  Ezekiel 34, 301.

Ezekiel now changes his prophetic approach after the destruction of Jerusalem to announce the restoration of God’s people. Israel failed to accomplish their mission from God, so God himself will accomplish the mission through his Messiah who will be the Good Shepherd to his people. People need to make their own decision as to whether they are on board with God’s kingdom and are willing to follow him and each one will bear the consequences or blessings of that decision. As Jesus said our destiny depends on our response to his invitation to “follow me.”

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