Monday, 17 November 2014

(322) November 18: Ezekiel 16 & Hebrews 12

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read note why Jerusalem’s sin is so serious.

To ponder:
Ezekiel is now to confront Jerusalem with an astonishing but quite explicit oracle in which God outlines the seriousness of her unfaithfulness when considering his care for her. He begins grounding the city’s birth in the Canaanite peoples who first built it and then despised it through lack of care (16v1-6). No doubt, this is to stress that its greatness is wholly down to God’s favour. He describes himself as seeing the city as a baby kicking in its blood, and said “live” – so that it grew and became like a beautiful woman. This may refer to how the city fared before the Israelites took it. But God then notes how later he passed by, saw it was like a woman ready for love and entered into a marriage contract with it. The image of covering with the corner of his garment implies a commitment to provide for her, but also, here, cover her shame – perhaps that of belonging to pagans. The day she became his would therefore be the day she became an Israelite city (16v7-8). God then describes how he washed and beautified his new bride, providing the best clothes and food so that she became a very beautiful queen, whose fame spread amongst the nations (16v9-14). We might consider Jerusalem in the days of Solomon, and the Queen of Sheba being overwhelmed at his wisdom, palace and temple. The point is that God made Jerusalem the greatest of all cities, not least with its unique privilege of his husbandly love and care. And all these things are equally and more wonderfully true of the new Jerusalem, which is the church.
            Yet Jerusalem forgot who she was dependent on and trusted in her own beauty. So she turned from the one who had passed by and married her, instead prostituting herself to anyone else (ie. other gods) who passed by so her beauty became theirs. She used the wealth God had given, to make high places and idols, and used the garments, oil and food he had especially given, to clothe and make offerings to false gods. In this pagan worship she even sacrificed some of her sons, that were born to God in the sense that they were a gift from him and intended to grow up with him as their father. In all this, she didn’t remember her infancy when she had nothing before God took care of her (16v15-22). It’s an intimate picture of how appalling the people’s rejection of God was, just as ours is when we consider every good thing we have is from him. Yet it also reflects how his anger is a jealous anger provoked by his deep love for his people.
            At this point God declares “woe” against the city because of what this will mean. He adds how she even erected a mound, with shrines throughout the city where she prostituted herself to whoever came her way, and especially with Egypt, Assyria and Babylon respectively. Here the stress is probably not so much on worshipping their gods, but looking to them for protection when she should have looked to her divine husband. In response to the first we are told she was handed over to the Philistines who were themselves shocked, perhaps at how ready she was to ally herself with others. And we are told her desire for anyone but God was insatiable (16v23-29). God states how weak willed she was. Indeed, declaring her an adulterous wife, he says she was so filled with desire that she would actually give gifts to her lovers and scorn payment, so being worse than a prostitute. This must refer to her approaching and bribing the above nations to enter into alliances with her (16v30-34). It is similar when the Christian looks into other religions in order to find something they prefer to Christ.
            In response, God states that he will gather all the city’s lovers against her, including those she hated – presumably because their alliance worked against her. God says he will strip her so that they see her nakedness. This would symbolise him divorcing her, and must refer to her losing the glory he had given her, so the nations see how utterly needy she is without God. He adds that in his jealous wrath he will give her the punishment due for adultery and murder, so handing her over to these lover nations, who will strip her of her finery and put her to death, burning down her houses. Stating this will be in the sight of many women must refer to the watching nations. And by this means God will stop the prostitution of her idolatry as she will no longer be able to pay her lovers. This is his ultimate purpose in her judgement. So he declares his anger and jealousy will then turn away and he will be calm (16v35-42). All this, we are told, is because Jerusalem did not remember her youth (16v43). It’s a reminder of the importance of remembering what we would be, but for the grace of God in Christ.
            In what follows, God states Jerusalem is proving herself not only like her Canaanite mother, who herself despised her husband and children – perhaps referring to her rejection of the true God and readiness to engage in child sacrifice. She is also even worse than her sisters who are named as Samaria (older as bigger) and Sodom (younger as smaller), with their daughters (ie. surrounding villages). This would all be truly shocking to a people who considered themselves descended from the righteous Abraham and Sarah, and who felt themselves above the nations around them. The sin of Sodom is listed as arrogance and excess that led to a lack of concern for the needy, which is always a temptation for those who have much. God’s point is that he did away with Sodom, so how much more should he do away with Jerusalem. Likewise, Samariah, that was destroyed by Assyria in judgement committed only half the city’s sins. God therefore declares Jerusalem should bear its disgrace as its acts have given a degree of justification to these two sisters by making them appear relatively righteous (16v43-52)! Within the church too, there are those who can fall to depths of depravity that make the non-Christian world look good by comparison.
            Here God promises to restore to well-being not just Jerusalem, but Sodom and Samariah, but all so that those in Jerusalem might be ashamed that their sin was so bad as to put those cities in a better light – especially when she wouldn’t previously have even mentioned Sodom because of the assumption that she was so depraved. As for now, she is despised by the towns of Edom, Philistia and the other nations around her (16v53-57).
            The chapter ends, with God declaring how she will bear the consequences of her sin and breach of his covenant, but also that he will remember that covenant and so establish another, eternal one (ie. a new marriage). God will then make Samaria and Sodom subordinate to her even though he did not make a covenant with them. And Jerusalem will know the LORD is God, he will atone for her sin, and in response, she will be ashamed and humbled (16v58-63). Again, we must see the new covenant here, that Gentiles are given a share in, even though it is made with Israel. And we should note that it is when God’s people experience his forgiveness through the cross, that they see their sin for what it is and hang their heads in shame. Indeed, Jewish Christians see that they may even have acted more appalling than Gentile Christians before their conversion.    

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his care of his bride, the church, which he beautifies through Christ. Pray that you would maintain a deep sense of your sin, and what you would be but for Christ.
                                                                                                    
Thinking further:
None today.


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