Saturday, November 19, 2016

Reading Through Ezekiel #4

EzekielWe now move through the final section of the strange book of Ezekiel accompanied by Ezekiel The College Press NIV Commentary, by Brandon Fredenburg. In this section, Fredenburg sees this final section as an “extravagant” offer to the exiles of blessing and protection which was not taken by most of the exiles and, thus, did not come to pass. Nevertheless, it is applicable because it is an example of the kind of offer God makes to His people at the end of the age. 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…

Ezekiel 33 begins a major new section in the book. The exile, the turning point in Israel's history has happened. Now Ezekiel turns from focusing on the surety of the doom of Jerusalem, to the opportunity to be renewed in covenant blessing. The covenant promised both destruction and exile for sin, but also promised blessing and renewal for repentance. In 33 Ezekiel provides a warning for the people to take this opportunity while it is open. He has "blown the Trumpet" and the people need to respond with repentance. In 34 God promises to remove the oppressive national leadership and restore a king like David if the people will repent.

The oracles in the following chapters are designed to lift Israel’s chin and reiterate the hope that their own covenant documents announce. It never was Yahweh’s intention to allow judgment to be the last word, even if it was a necessary preparation. Ezekiel 33, 281

Incredibly, they appear to want a god who does not change, rather than one who mercifully responds to changing circumstances. They desire a logical and predictable god, rather than one sovereignly free to judge each one according to his own ways...Yet, Yahweh’s actions are principled: he seeks the way that brings life and sustains holiness. Thus he sent the watchman to encourage the righteous to remain righteous, and the wicked to turn and live. Ezekiel 33.17-20, 286

It is insufficient for a shepherd only to nurture his flock as Yahweh’s example demonstrates; it is equally necessary at times to defend the flock from harm originating within and outside the flock. Ezekiel 34.11-16, 304

35.1-36.15 contain two prophecies about the "mountains of Edom" and the "mountains of Israel." The mountains of Edom will receive the covenant curses because they, as the ancient rival and enemy of Israel, helped the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem. In contrast the devastated mountains of Israel will receive the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. Ezekiel is now transitioning to the prophecies focused on future blessing for the exiles.

(Edom) is to be a sign to the watching world that Yahweh still loves and guards the inheritance of the house of Israel. Because of Edom’s encroachment, Yahweh will cause Mount Seir and all of Edom to become desolate. This punitive response will convince the world that Yahweh is sovereign. But it will also convince the demoralized exiles that Yahweh had not abandoned them or his covenant promises. When Yahweh would act on their behalf, he would remove their most ancient enemy. Ezekiel 35, 312

Edom and the others failed to recognize that destroyed Judah still belonged to Yahweh...Each believed that Judah’s calamity was Yahweh’s final word. Had they considered the covenant promises, they would have known that the destruction was merely a preliminary step to extending the full menu of blessings to his people once again. Ezekiel 36.1-15, 314

36.16 begins the prophecies of the restoration and blessing of the land and people of Israel. Both the exile and the restoration are necessary to show "the nations" the character of God, so that, ultimately, the whole world can be blessed through Israel.

Yahweh is the LORD. He would orchestrate events so that Israel would fulfill her divine mandate. He intended for her yet to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a light to the nations. Yahweh’s intent to fulfill his covenant obligations was more than a matter of faithfulness to his word, it defined the essence of his holiness. Ezekiel 36.22-32, 319

In chapters 37-39 the prophet tries to inspire the exiles with hope and motivate the faith needed to return to the Land when God gives the opportunity. The "dry bones" vision inspires hope by telling the people that God is able to restore the nation, even if it requires a national resurrection. The end of the chapter adds that the restoration will restore the entire nation of 12 tribes, not just Judah. It will be a restoration of David's covenant. Chapters 38-39 let them know that, even if the greatest enemy of all time came against them (Gog), God could easily take care of them. John picks up the language here in Revelation to let us know that, even if the all physical, political, spiritual and all other evil were gathered against His people, Jesus still wins, easily.

This strange description is an extended metaphor of Yahweh’s ability to inspire the dispirited exiles to renewed hope, obedience, and trust in his power to save them from their depressing surroundings. Yahweh can make promise after promise to exiled Israel about coming home, but he cannot make them go home. The return requires a trust in Yahweh that compels one obediently to leave Babylon and travel back to Judah to rebuild. Ezekiel 37, 323

The opening verses of both chapters unmistakably announce that even Gog’s plans to harm obedient, unsuspecting Israel are well within their God’s ability to maneuver, manipulate, and control. These chapters describe Yahweh’s activity designed to prove to the nations that he is sovereign over even them, and to prove to Israel that he is their covenant-keeping God. Ezekiel 38-39, 336

The ominous, menacing Gog, leader of the world’s best-equipped armies, face-to-face with Yahweh, gets his weapons knocked out of his hands and drops dead. The enemies are unevenly matched; the confrontation is not even a battle, and it is over before it begins. Ezekiel 39, 346

There are many views to the meaning of the temple vision in 40-48. Fredenburg sees it as a temple that could have been built, but was not. YHWH was giving his people a chance to trust in a very extravagant restoration and appreciate the "extremes" He was willing to go to bring them back to the land. The beauty and order of the temple should have made them aware of their sinfulness (43.10-11) and amazed at God's power and faithfulness. God is willing to live with His people, and now invites Israel to repent and come back to their home with Him.

To be sure, Yahweh always wants his people to live in conformity with his own unchanging character, but the exact forms in which we manifest such lives necessarily differ from culture to culture and age to age. A relationship between Yahweh and his people confined to long-past, unfamiliar ancient cultural norms would be a major step backwards. Something greater than a physical temple and new tribal allotments is in view. Ezekiel 40, 356

We must assume that Ezekiel’s audience would have been overwhelmed by the sheer size, detail, and care with which the new temple was constructed. Their overwhelming awe was supposed to transfer to an overwhelming sense of the degree to which Yahweh was willing to go to reestablish their relationship. The symmetrical perfection of the structures and Yahweh’s meticulous attention to order demonstrated the depth of his desire to have the hearts and minds of his people back. Ezekiel 40, 359

Yahweh stands in his new temple, in the midst of a renewed land, awaiting his “prodigal son” Israel to return home after feeling shame for his sins. What more can he do? He calls out to Israel to return to him and the temple he built so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations and thus fulfill its, and their, purpose. Yahweh’s return is a magnanimous invitation for Israel’s return. Ezekiel 43, 378

With a new temple there would be a new altar and procedure for sacrifice. The rules for priests and rulers would be changed as well. Even God's land would be newly divided. God was inviting the exiles back, but he wanted them to know that he was very serious about holiness as the requirement for their new covenant relationship with him.

Holiness was the appropriate state for the worshiper, as well as the temple furniture used in that interaction. An appropriate degree of holiness (wholeness) was temporarily gained by the worshiper and the furniture through various cleansings and sacrificial rituals. Ezekiel 43.18-27, 382

Harmony before Yahweh only occurs when his people take their responsibilities before him and one another seriously. Ezekiel 44, 388

The setting aside of a central sacred district ensured that Yahweh indeed would be their God and would dwell in their midst. Such promises spoke volumes to Ezekiel’s landless companions. But it also reminded them that the land belonged to Yahweh as his possession, to be allotted as he saw fit. He was its main inhabitant, not them, and he allowed them to live with him. Yahweh in his temple was to be the geographical and theological center of the regathered exiles. Ezekiel 45.1-8, 390

Fredenburg sees this entire final section of Ezekiel as a generous invitation from God to return from exile and enjoy security, prosperity and the blessings of God's presence. In Ezekiel's vision God supplies everything Israel will need: land, temple and blessing. However, the people must trust him and return. History shows that they did not do this and these promises were not realized. However, John will pick up on these themes in Revelation and show that this offer is still out there for God's people all over the world today.

This envisioned new temple period would be a glorious time of peace, prosperity, and purity for Ezekiel and the exiles. Ezekiel holds out the realization of the period of blessing announced by the Mosaic covenant in Deuteronomy 30:1–10. All that is needed is for the exiles to “turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” Ezekiel 46, 396

The purpose of this section, with its exaggerated, poetic claims, was to reinforce for the landless exiles the magnanimous offer Yahweh extended to them to woo them home. Life on their land, with Yahweh and his temple in its midst and as its life-giving source, would be indescribably and unimaginably wonderful … when they returned. Ezekiel 47.1-12, 402

The last words of the prophet and of the book stand as an open invitation to those in exile. The house is built. The table is set. The rooms are assigned. The land is secure. And Yahweh is there … waiting … watching … wooing … wanting his people to come home. Ezekiel 48.30-35, 407

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