Sunday, 16 November 2014

(321) November 17: Ezekiel 13-15 & Hebrews 11:20-40

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 traits in those who are false prophets.

To ponder:
Ezekiel is now to speak against false prophets that are in exile with him. They are those who prophesy from their own imagination and spirit, rather than God’s Spirit. So Ezekiel is to condemn them as foolish, and like jackals among ruins – ie. seeking prey to devour, when they should be metaphorically repairing the breaks in the walls – ie. strengthening crumbling faith so the people will stand firm. God is adamant that despite the fact they actually expect their words to be fulfilled, he has not sent them and they have seen nothing from him, so their visions and divinations (future-telling) are false (13v1-7). It’s a stark reminder of how easily people can assume what they feel in their spirit is from God’s Spirit, and actually be convinced it is a word from God – whether expressed as a prophecy or sermon. A key question to ask those who claim to have a message from God is therefore what makes them think it is genuinely from him. With prophecy, one would at least expect an undeniable clarity and potency of vision; with a sermon, that it is true to scripture.
            Because of these false visions, God declares he is against these prophets, stating they will no longer be included in the inner circle of Israel, nor have the rights of those listed as true Israelites, nor return to the land when the time comes. As previously, he says that the fulfilment of this word will show them that he is the Sovereign Lord (13v8-9). The way the LORD says these prophets lead the people astray is in declaring “peace” where there is none. So they erect a flimsy wall of false hope that they whitewash – covering over the harsh realities of Israel’s situation. 13v16 implies they were sending messages to Jerusalem, no doubt proclaiming it would not fall. To this, God declares he will unleash his anger in such a way that their wall of false hope will fall and the prophets be destroyed, yet knowing he is the LORD (13v10-16). In our day such false assurance comes from those within the church who trivialise sin and scoff at the idea of judgement or the wrath of God.
            Ezekiel is also to prophesy against the prophetesses who ensnare people to their lies through feigned magic, just so they can receive a little more food. It’s a fitting description of how fortune tellers and the like still ensnare. It seems these women killed those who shouldn’t have died in the sense that they encouraged the wicked not to turn from their ways, so that they would die when they would otherwise have lived. Sparing those who should not live may therefore refer to them declaring that the wicked deserved life, even though they didn’t. Whatever the case, they disheartened the righteous in this by giving no encouragement to them for their uprightness. God declares he is against these women, will free the people from them, and cause them no longer to carry on their practices. Then they too will know the LORD (13v17-23). It is unclear whether these false prophets actually saw false visions. In the wider context it seems more likely this is just a way of describing them speaking the impressions of their own imaginations and spirits.
            When some elders came to enquire of God through Ezekiel, God’s word then came telling him they were worshipping idols (the stumbling block before their faces) that would lead them into sin. God implies they should not be allowed to enquire of him and declares he will answer them in keeping with their idolatry in order to recapture their hearts. This is God’s intent in rebuking us for our sin. And so he calls them to repent, stating he will not answer them whilst they commit idolatry, but cut them off (ie. cause their death) – saying the people will then know he is the LORD. He adds that if the prophet the idolater enquires of does respond, this will be because God has enticed them, no doubt to bring ruin to the enquirer. But as the prophet is speaking his own ideas rather than a message God had actually given, he will be counted guilty and destroyed. God promises that through all this the people will cease their straying and so be his people with him as their God (14v1-11). The point is that the people will be refined as some repent and those who don’t are destroyed.
            In what follows God states that when he acts in judgement against a sinful country with famine, wild beasts, sword and plague, even the most righteous, like Noah, Daniel or Job, would be able to save only themselves and not the country itself. So, God says, how much worse will it be for Jerusalem in facing these four things. Nevertheless, he promises that some will survive and join those already in exile. The sense is that when those with Ezekiel witness the evil actions of these survivors, they will be consoled about the destruction of Jerusalem, seeing how right and just it was (14v12-23). The section stresses that no matter how terrible God’s judgement may seem to us, it is right. How much we need to hold to this with respect to hell. No doubt in glory we will be consoled in recognizing that God has not condemned people there without cause. We also learn here that at times God does bring disaster on the nations of the world in judgement for their sin. As the righteous do not always escape, 14v14 must simply mean that if they were to be saved (as Lot from Sodom), they could only save themselves.
            Chapter 15 stresses that the wood of a vine is not even as good as other wood, as nothing useful is made of it. And it is even more useless when burned. So just as God has given vine wood to be used in fire, although the people of Jerusalem have come out of one fire, in surviving previous threats, fire will still consume them in the coming destruction. Again, God says, they will know he is the LORD, as when all that God predicts comes to pass.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he has revealed his word clearly for us in scripture. Pray that those who confess faith but love things more than God, would repent and give their hearts to him.
Thinking further:
None today.

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