Wednesday, 12 November 2014

(317) November 13: Ezekiel 1-3 & Hebrews 9

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

To discover:­
As you read note what exactly God calls Ezekial to do.

To ponder:
Ezekial is amongst the exiles, south-East of Babylon by a tributary of the river Euphrates. We don’t know what the “thirteenth year” referred to, but are told this was the fifth year of King Jerhoiachin’s exile. And God’s word comes to Ezekial in the form of a vision of God in heaven (1v1-3).
            Chapter 1 describes how him seeing a massive windy stormcloud coming from the north. It is surrounded by light with lighting flashing throughout it. These are motifs for God’s presence in judgement and purity. In the centre are four fiery creatures with human bodies, but four faces, four wings in addition to their hands, and four feet like a calf’s, which gleam like bronze. The four faces are of the most supreme creatures from amongst humanity, wild beasts, livestock, and birds. This reflects the fact that all creation is to serve God as its king. Beneath each creature is a wheel on the ground, so that all four creatures could move together in any of the four directions the creatures faced, or up and down. This might be why they are pictured with calves feet (for nimbleness) and wings. We’re told the wheels move because the spirit of the creatures is in them, so when the creatures move they do too. These creatures are therefore perfectly aligned with the will of God as to where they should go.
            The “eyes” on the wheels may denote God’s omniscience, or just refer to precious stones. The wheels are certainly portrayed as ornate and awesome, reflecting the majesty of God. This fits the fact that above the creatures is a sort of ice-like platform, above which was a sapphire throne, and high above that, a figure like that of a man. It seems from the waist down he was just fire, but from the waist up had a body that glowed as if full of fire, with a light surrounding him like a rainbow – the sign of his continued favour towards all creation (as Gen 9). We’re explicitly told Ezekial is seeing an “appearance” of God’s glory or excellence (1v28). And again, this imagery implies his purity and judgement in particular, with his sheer height, separated from the world by the ice-sheet, reflecting how superior and set-apart or holy he is, in comparison with the creation (see Is 6). It seems then, that the creatures and their wheels are like a sort of chariot that carries the LORD around the creation. We’re told that when moving, the creatures stretch their wings to one-another, and their sound is like that of rushing water, the voice of the Almighty and the tumult of an army. Significantly, the first and last of these are images of judgement, implying the word God speaks as he comes (as 1v25) might be one of judgement too. 
            All this makes draws the attention to God speaking to Ezekial in chapter 2, emphasizing just how awesome this is and how reverently his words should be heard – by us as by his orginal hearers. Calling Ezekial “son of man” stresses his mortality and distinctiveness from God. He is ordered to stand to be spoken to, and the Spirit raises him to his feet (2v1-2). In some sense this pictures the great need of Israel and all humanity - for God to speak and resurrect them from our spiritual death (see chapter 37). God tells Ezekial he is sending him to the Israelites as a generationally rebellious nation, forewarning him how obstinate they are, and telling him he must tell them what the LORD says whether they listen or not. He also tells Ezekial not to fear them, although danger may surround him, and not to rebel like them (2v3-8a). These are words every Christian needs to hear, and every preacher in particular.
            At this point God tells Ezekial to eat a scroll containing words of lament, mourning and woe, and then speak to Israel. These things will therefore form the content of his preaching. But the fact that the scroll is sweet-tasting reminds us that God’s word is good, and is pleasant to those who accept it (2v8-3v3). Nevertheless, he stresses that although there will be no language barrier between Ezekial and the people, and although even those of a differently language would have listened if he communicated to them, Israel will not because they are unwilling to (3v4-7). Likewise, people may say they are rejecting God’s word today because they are confused about it, but often it is simply that they don’t want it. Nevertheless, God says he will make Ezekial’s forehead like stone, implying that he will strengthen him to keep speaking and not be swayed (3v8-9).
            Having been commissioned to speak to the exiles, the Spirit then lifted him up and took him away. It’s not clear whether the description of the sound of the living creatures’ wings implies they transported him or that before he was taken away he heard God’s chariot depart, implying that his vision was complete. It may be that what Ezekial is describing is simply that he was compelled by the Spirit to get up and head off to the exiles at Tel Abib near the same river he was already by (3v10-15). His bitterness, anger of spirit with “the strong hand of the LORD upon me” probably describes him feeling God’s own anger at the sin of the exiles, and God compelling him to speak to it.
            At this new location, it seems Ezekial was overwhealmed, whether at his calling or the people’s sin. He is then told that he has been made a watchman – a sentry who would sound the alarm to a city. His role is therefore to warn. And he is told that if God declares a wicked man will die or puts a stumbling block before someone who has turned from righteousness so that they might die, yet Ezekial doesn’t warn and seek to dissuade the person from their sin, then he too will be accountable, implying he will also die, rather than be saved. By contrast, if the person is warned and stops sinning, he will live, and Ezekial will be saved (3v16-21). It’s a stark reminder of what is at stake for those who preach the gospel.
            Again, under God’s strong compelling, God sent him to a plain where he saw a vision of God as he had before. Once again too, the Spirit raised him to his feet. If Ezekial had been resenting the role he had been given, this could be understood as a second commissioning. Perhaps as an acted parable of what he is about to be told, he is commanded to shut himself up at home. God then told him he would at some point be bound by the people so he could not prophesy amongst them. Moreover, God would make him unable to rebuke them for their sin, except for when God speaks to him. Then he is to say whatever the LORD says, and whoever will listen will listen (3v22-27).
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for preachers and Christians who have been bold enough to warn you about sin and its consequences. Pray that they would continue to do so, despite the pressure not to.

Thinking further:
To read an introduction to Ezekial from the NIV Study Bible, click here.

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