Tuesday, 18 November 2014

(323) November 19: Ezekiel 17-19 & Hebrews 13

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

To discover:­
As you read note the qualities God displays.

To ponder:
God now instructs Ezekiel to use a parable. His later words (17v11-15) interpret his earlier ones (17v3-8). So Nebuchadnezzar (the king of Babylon) is the great eagle carrying off the Jerusalem’s king (Jeoiachin) and nobles (top of the cedar of Lebanon) to Babylon. His taking a seed from Israel and planting it so it becomes a vine turned towards him but with roots underneath, refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s treaty with one of the royal family (Zedekiah), so that the kingdom (vine) could only survive by reliance on his. Yet the sense is that the kingdom could have thrived under these circumstances (17v8). However, the vine instead stretched out and sent its roots to a second eagle (the king of Egypt), to whom Zedekiah sent envoys for horses and an army, breaking his previous treaty. In response, because of this breach of oath, God declares all new growth on the vine will wither and be easily uprooted, with Zedekiah dying in Babylon, and Pharaoh unable to help when Babylon lays siege to Jerusalem (17v1-18).
            The reason the breach of oath is so serious is because it was taken in God’s name (see 2 Chr 36v13), so God can declare he will bring “his” oath and covenant on Zedekiah’s head, have his fleeing troops fall and the survivors scattered. Moreover, he will take a shoot from the cedar (ie. another member of the Davidic line) and plant it on a high mountain in Israel, so that it will produce branches and fruit as a great cedar, with birds nesting and finding shelter in its branches. As with the vine, the tree refers to the kingdom of which the king is its topmost shoot (see 17v3-4). It is portrayed as able to shelter all those who seek it – of whatever kind (ie. country). It is then compared with other trees (kingdoms) which will then know that God uproots great kingdoms (the tall tree) and grows lesser ones (the low trees), implying that they should acknowledge him (17v10-24). Jesus himself taught that this is fulfilled in his kingdom, that will spread through his word (Matt 13v31-32). The point is that no matter how fallen God’s people seem to be, his kingdom will one day fill the earth and his king be acknowledged by the nations.
            Next God urged Ezekiel to question the people’s proverb that suggests that in the destruction by Babylon the current generation is suffering for their father’s sins (18v1-2). Of course, we have seen there is a sense in which that was true, and it was a principle within Israel’s law (Ex 34v7, see notes there). But God’s response clarifies that it doesn’t warrant the assumption that the current generation are somehow innocent, or that it is futile for them to repent. Rather, it remains true that the one who sins who will die. The sense is that because everyone belongs to him, God is concerned with each individually, so he will not allow the guilty to be pardoned or the innocent to be punished. He therefore states that despite this principle, the righteous man will surely live, challenging the reader by defining the righteous as one who acts justly, does not commit idolatry, obeys the law in matters of sex, does not oppress others for monetary gain, but who gives to the needy, keeps himself from wrongdoing, deals fairly with people, and keeps God’s laws. He adds that if this righteous person has a violent son who does any of these things, he will be put to death with his blood being on his own head (ie. being accountable for his own guilt). He continues, that if this man’s son sees this and so refrains from the things his father did, then he will not die for his father’s sins, but live (18v3-18). To those that ask why he doesn’t share his father’s guilt, expecting that this is what should happen, God responds, he does not, because he has been careful to keep God’s decrees, and “the soul who sins is the one who will die.”  So each person’s righteousness or wickedness will be charged to their account only (18v19-20). Indeed, when a wicked man repents, he will live and none of his offences will be remembered, for God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but would rather they received mercy. Yet if a righteous man turns into sin, he will die and none of his righteous acts will be remembered (18v21-24). We must conclude then that God punishes the children for the sins of their fathers only if they continue in them, but not if they turn from them. And it is true that the righteous in Jerusalem could have obeyed the prophets by surrendering to Babylon as Jeremiah did, and so being taken into exile rather than starving under siege.
            No doubt all this was stressed to reassure the exiles that the destruction of Jerusalem was entirely just, as God does not punish the upright. However, God anticipates them charging him with being unjust, still, it seems, assuming that the current residents of Jerusalem were wrongly being punished for their fathers’ sins. God’s declaration that the exile’s ways are actually unjust may be a reference to their assumption that these people should be acquitted. So God again asserts the principles he has outlined. His point is that the people need to turn from their sin rather than presume their innocence. He affirms that he will judge each according to his ways, but calls them to this repentance because he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and promises that those who do will get a new heart ad spirit so that they can obey him (18v25-32). It’s a marvellous demonstration of God’s reluctance in judgement, and the love that moves him to call people to himself.
            The lament of chapter 19 presents Israel as a lioness rearing kings (see Gen 49v9 for the image of lion for king). So we read of Jehoahaz becoming strong and ruthlessly oppressing his people before being carried to Egypt (2 Kgs 23v33). The second cub is probably Jehoiachim (although possibly one of the two succeeding kings). He also grew strong, oppressed his people, and sacked their towns, before being captured, taken before Nebuchadnezzar and imprisoned in Babylon (2 Kgs 23v36-24v4, 2 Chr 36v6). Ezekiel then speaks of the nation as mother to these kings with the familiar imagery of a fruitful vine (Gen 49v9-12) with strong branches that bore the ruler’s sceptre, and so represent kings. It was high, perhaps implying arrogant. And was uprooted, shrivelled by the east wind (Babylon from the east) and stripped of fruit (those taken into exile). It’s strong branches (Jehoahaz and Jehoichim) were weakened and consumed, it transplanted to the desert (Babylon), with fire spreading from a main branch (Zedekiah) to consumer the rest of its fruit (the destruction of Jerusalem that he provoked). The lament highlights that there is no davidic king left, calling into question God’s promise (19v1-14, see 2 Sam 7v10-16).
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his reluctance to judge and leaning towards mercy. Pray that you would never turn to wickedness.
Thinking further:
None today.

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