Sunday, August 10, 2014

This Week in Ezekiel (35-48)

imageThe last section of Ezekiel is the restoration section. After Ezekiel has given the bad news that the exile in Babylon will be long, he gives the good news that God will change the hearts of his people and restore them in his land again. But the best news is that God will be “there.” God will live with his people in an Edenic type environment in which his benefits will go out from Jerusalem to all the world. He will accomplish the original creation mission of  “subduing of the earth,” that Adam and Israel failed to do, through his Messiah. The big controversy in this section deals with how literally the scenario painted by Ezekiel should be taken. For now (and I reserve the right to change my mind here) my tendency is to see the river, temple, land divisions etc. as symbolic of God’s kingdom blessings that will happen as he sets up his kingdom on earth. I base this on the nature of apocalyptic literature and Jesus’ statement that his body has replaced the temple. The key truth is that God will dwell forever with his people in his perfect kingdom and we will enjoy the blessings of his presence forever.

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

L. Allen has noted that there are many connecting links between 35:1–15 and 36:1–15. These form strong contrasts and comparisons between Edom and Israel, making the judgment of Edom “a foil for Israel’s salvation in 36:1–15.” For the desolation Edom brought upon Israel, God would bring desolation upon Edom and fruitfulness to Israel.  Ezekiel 35, 306.

New Testament conversion is only a preview of the massive spiritual revival God has in store for all of true Israel and Gentiles who believe. The New Testament concept of redemption came out of the theology of the Old Testament. The similarities exist because what God wants to do for Israel is what he wants to do for everyone. Ezekiel 36.24-32, 317.

Mention of the “garden of Eden” in v. 35 suggests that Ezekiel saw a future fulfillment of his prophecy that went beyond the return from Babylon under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. While many aspects of the fulfillment of these prophetic promises were immediate and limited, there was also to be a distant, complete fulfillment in a messianic age. The ideal qualities of life, work, rest, peace, companionship, knowledge by revelation, dominion, productivity, and security characterized human existence before the fall. All were either lost or greatly diminished after sin entered the world. Ezekiel’s use of the garden of Eden revealed a hope for the restoration and development of the characteristics of life in Eden.  Ezekiel 36.33-38, 318.

For the restoration of Eden to happen God must remove sin and death (Edom) from the world. Edom represents the judgment of all those who refuse God’s kingdom offer and oppress God’s people. God will also change the hearts of his people who believe in him to prepare them for living in this kingdom. Presently we see this power working in the church through the Spirit but in the consummation of the kingdom it will work throughout the entire world transforming all of it into Eden.

If the prophet remained faithful to his call and proclaimed the word of God, the ultimate consequence would be a life-transforming experience that would result in a national resurrection. There is no finer illustration of the life-changing power of the preached word than what the prophet saw in his vision. Ezekiel 37, 325.

The viewpoint of Scripture is that neither human wickedness nor the powers of darkness can thwart God’s purpose. God’s sovereign power and infinite wisdom enable him to use even the schemes of the devil and of wicked individuals to achieve his ends...Divine purpose overrides human motive. Ezekiel 38, 337.

Whenever individuals set themselves against God, they always fail. God will judge those who oppose him and chasten those who love him but stray. He may grant the brief illusion of success, but ultimately judgment will come. In the end God will be the victor who will establish his name, his glory, and his people at the end of human history. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31). If God is against us, who can be for us? (38:3). Ezekiel 39, 347.

God will accomplish his purpose, as he planned from the beginning through his image on earth - human beings. Human opposition cannot stop God. It only enhances his glory as he accomplishes his purpose despite the power of those arrayed against him. The amazing thing is that he is able to do it through imperfect people whom he empowers. It is a privilege of grace for us to be included as workers and rulers along with Christ.

The restored temple represents God’s desire to be in the midst of his people and suggests his accessibility to them and desire to bless them. Ezekiel 40, 357.

The gates are a foreshadowing of the accessibility God gave to all people through Jesus, who presents himself as the door by which one can enter to God and be saved (see John 10:9–21). The choice of three gates for this temple rather than four or more may suggest a deeper significance of the means of access God provides for humans to approach him, since God manifests himself in three ways to the human family as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Ezekiel 40.5-16, 359.

The temple sanctuary of Ezekiel’s vision was a house of worship and a statement of God’s desire to dwell among his people. The divisions and separations placed in the temple plan and in the sanctuary itself were designed to preserve the idea of God’s holiness and separation from sin yet his availability to sinful humanity. Ezekiel 41, 369.

Descriptions of the temple, priesthood, and worship regulations such as those envisioned by Ezekiel were all prophetic “types” of the life and work of Christ. Ezekiel 42, 372–373.

The temple vision is all about gaining access to God and his blessings. In this present age, we are means of access to God as we, the church filled with the Spirit, connect God to the world through our kingdom actions. The “body of Christ” dwells on the earth in the church during this inaugural phase of the kingdom. In the future kingdom God will dwell fully on the earth in the God-Man Jesus Christ.

The Sabbath Year was followed by the eighth year that was to be a year of new beginning. It was to be a time for plowing the ground, sowing seeds, and harvesting crops once again. Jesus the Messiah is the person of the eighth day and eighth year of new beginnings. He is our Sabbath rest who satisfied both the Sabbath Day and Sabbath Year of rest. He will lead his people to a final time of eternal rest. Ezekiel 43.18-27, 386.

Those who are called to leadership roles must make whatever personal sacrifices necessary to maintain their moral purity. Both the character and conduct of those in leadership roles should demonstrate an obedience of and conformity to the physical, moral, and spiritual principles of the Word of God.  Ezekiel 44:15–31, 395.

Just dealings precede acceptable worship. God abhors false balances (Prov 11:1; Amos 8:5; Mic 6:11) because they represent injustice and deceit. Jesus made this same connection between justice in our relationships and acceptable worship in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21–26). Ezekiel 45:9–12, 399.

Jesus rose on the “8th day” to inaugurate the new age. We enter into the “rest” of the New Age as we trust him. This includes “taking up our cross” in this age as we live out our mission as Jesus did to serve others with love, justice and righteousness.

The people were responsible to provide for the operation of the temple, its services, and the priests. Tithes and offerings have always been the acceptable means for funding God’s work. Everyone was to participate in this, the only legitimate method for temple support. The sanctuary was never to be supported by merchandizing. Ezekiel 45.13-17, 401.

Materialism is always a barrier to effective worship. The regulations concerning property and ownership were designed to discourage covetousness and encourage recognition of God’s ownership of all things. Ezekiel 46:16–18, 405.

God provided for fellowship between himself and human beings. He also provided for interaction between humans and incorporated it as a vital part of worship.  Ezekiel 46.19-24, 405.

Shared rulership with Christ also means shared responsibility. Effective worship requires that we contribute our time, money, talents and lives fully to God’s kingdom work. All of these things are investments of the temporary that will be rewarded with eternal benefits. We serve God as we interact with and serve his people.

That the source of this river had its origin at the threshold of the sanctuary is a most significant fact. Symbolically it presents a beautiful picture of God as the Source of life for a world that thirsts for spiritual truth, including forgiveness and salvation... The root meaning of these symbolic applications is expressed in the truth Ezekiel saw that God is the source of life-giving and healing waters, which flowed from his sanctuary. Ezekiel 47.1-2, 409–410.

It would be an error to regard this fertilizing, healing stream as a mere symbol of heaven. This would overstep the limits of the Old Testament since the Hebrews had no conception of a transcendent sphere of existence such as heaven. The final abode for humanity was considered to be still on earth. God came down and dwelt with humans; they were not translated to abide with God. However, God’s presence with humans on earth did give to earth the attributes of heaven. Ezekiel 47.12, 414.

The name of the city will be Yahweh-Shammah in Hebrew, which means, “The Lord is There!” This name embodies the idea of the eternal residence of God with his people and the assurance that he will never again depart. Also his presence will no longer be confined to the holy of holies in the sanctuary, but he will dwell in the city whose name preserved the promise, “The Lord is There!” Ezekiel 48.35, 425.

The bottom line in all of this is the presence of God with us. This is the main blessing from which all other blessings flow. We were created to be in relationship with God and with each other. We experience what we were meant to be through this connection and are only fully human within these relationships. This will be the eternal blessing of the kingdom as God’s presence and blessing permeate all the created order. We experience a little of this now when we can look at ourselves and our churches and say “the LORD is there.”

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