Friday, October 21, 2016

Reading Through Ezekiel #1

EzekielWe continue the journey through the Old Testament. Today we begin the book of Ezekiel accompanied by Ezekiel The College Press NIV Commentary, by Brandon Fredenburg. Ezekiel begins with a vision of God that forces the prophet and the exiles to give up their pre-conceived ideas about how God’s covenant works and prepares them for the exile and destruction of Jerusalem. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The last thing Ezekiel or his contemporaries expected was for Yahweh to communicate to his people in Babylon. Rather than coming from within the land of Judah (as with Jeremiah) or from the temple (as with Isaiah), Yahweh appears in a backwater district of the enemy’s empire. Soon, Ezekiel and his contemporaries will realize that the god of Israel is not confined within Judah’s borders. 38

The temples all around them in Babylon testified to the greatness of the Babylonian gods. Tile reliefs on massive walls and mammoth stone statues of lions, bulls, phoenixes, and dragons proclaimed the power of the Babylonian pantheon. In comparison, Yahweh seemed nonexistent. Yet, there, in the very land protected by such powerful deities, Yahweh reveals himself to Ezekiel. Ezekiel 1.3, 39

Chapters 1-3 describe Ezekiel's call and commissioning. This takes place between the time Ezekiel and the nobles were taken to Babylon in 597 and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586. God will call Ezekiel to prophecy against the idea that the exile would be short and Jerusalem would be spared. First, Ezekiel sees a vision of God on his throne that reminds him that, despite the exile, God is still in control. Then he calls Ezekiel to this difficult ministry of warning the people that they needed to repent and that rescue was not coming soon. Ezekiel does not want to do this and becomes angry at God. Much like Paul on the road to Damascus, God overwhelms Ezekiel's resistance and Ezekiel chooses to become God's spokesman.

Far from respecting the territorial claims of Babylon’s gods, Yahweh shows Ezekiel that things are opposite from what he and his companion exiles suppose. The gods of Babylon are the obedient, throne-bearers of Yahweh! Ezekiel 1, 41

From here on, Ezekiel will be referred to as son of man. This designation refers to much more than Ezekiel’s mortality (cf. NRSV’s “mortal”), though that notion is not excluded. The term is used 93 times in the book and underscores Yahweh’s sovereign right to command and direct his subjects any way he chooses. Every reference to Ezekiel as “son of man” is a forceful reminder of Ezekiel’s ultimate obligation to obey totally and immediately. Ezekiel 1-2, 44–45

Ezekiel’s task was, in part, to obliterate any remaining hope the exiles had for a swift return to their homeland. Not only would they not return soon, they would soon be joined by even more of their countrymen from Judea. Yet, by replacing these false hopes, Ezekiel would proclaim that the exiles were Yahweh’s selected people to reestablish his name and honor at some time in the future. Ezekiel 3, 50

Ezekiel's messages begin with symbolic prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel is bound in spirit from saying anything but God's Word and is prohibited from Interceding for the people. Israel's sin had gone too far and the covenant curses were now activated. The only hope was repentance so that a future generation would be able to return and rebuild Jerusalem.

(The symbolic prophecy) also effectually shows that the God to whom they are related in covenant is alive, well, and faithful to his word even beyond the borders of Judah and Israel. Only when they come to see this fully, will they also see their way out of the exile. Ezekiel 4, 66

Yahweh had always intended for his covenant people to be a means of communication and blessing to all the nations of the earth (cf. Gen 12:2–3). This rebellious nation had hindered, but had not thwarted, this purpose. Yahweh’s message would still get through to the nations through his covenant people, just not in the way he had hoped. He would make a negative example out of them. Ezekiel 5, 72

Chapters 6 and 7 contain prophecies of judgment and destruction for the "mountains" and "land" of Judah. The mountains were the places of idol worship, and so the idols and the people who worshipped them would be destroyed. The land was thought by the people to be safe because of the presence of YHWH but, because the people treated God as if he wasn't there, he would leave without his protection. The Babylonians would destroy everything, kill most of the people and exile a small remnant would scattered. God and His covenant would be vindicated. People should not expect God's protection if they are not willing to live in covenant with Him.

The defeat of these dung-pellet gods and the death of their subjects demonstrated the power of Yahweh against the powerlessness of these idols. In order to begin the work of reclaiming them for himself, Yahweh must first clear the land of every vestige of rebellion and objects of rival affection. Ezekiel 6, 75

These punishments are simply the removal of Yahweh’s normal means of assistance for his people because they have so long failed to use them...Yahweh wants his people to conclude that it is he, not their idols, not their money, not his temple, that provides for them and sustains them. Perhaps when they see how they fare apart from all these props, they will acknowledge Yahweh. Ezekiel 7, 85

In chapters 8-11 Ezekiel is taken by God, in a vision, to Jerusalem. He sees the comprehensive idolatrous practices of the nation through its history. Idols from Egypt, Babylon and Canaan have polluted the temple throughout the history of the nation. Now God gets off his throne and pronounces the devastating judgment on the nation and then the cherubim escort him away from Jerusalem. YHWH has left his temple and city. He has now gone to be a "sanctuary" for the "remnant" in Babylon. They will be the ones through whom he will restore the nation.

This transhistorical, transcendent vision presents decades of various forbidden worship practices as if in a single point in time for Ezekiel to see. Ezekiel 8, 90

Riding upon his cherubim-led throne vehicle, the glory of the God of Israel exits the temple and stops for one last look at the east gate of Yahweh’s house. Yahweh has left his building. The temple and the city are now without their divine protection. Ezekiel 10.18-19, 102

More basic than their identity—based on temple, land, and people—should have been their theology of God. He is free to act however he wishes and is not confined to a box, a temple, a city, or a country. When the leaders and exiles come to this conclusion, Yahweh says, “Then you will know that I am Yahweh.” Ezekiel 11, 105

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