Saturday, 22 November 2014

(327) November 23: Ezekiel 27-28 & James 4

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 led the king of Tyre into his sin.

To ponder:
God’s word against Tyre continues with a lament. Her supremacy in trade is noted because of her location by the sea (the western coast of modern Lebanon). And her pride is outlined: She considers herself perfect in her beauty, and is described as a ship, built with materials from all over the known world. In this, she benefited from the seamanship, skill and military service of those from the whole earth, with all on the sea coming to her for trade, paying with great wealth, slaves, animals, ivory and ebony, fabric, coral and jewels, natural products, wine and wool, iron, spices, saddle blankets, livestock, rugs etc etc (27v1-24).
            This all proves that the prosperity of a nation isn’t a sign of it being right with God. Rather, in his immense grace, God may grant a nation the sort of glory that will only rightly mark his kingdom. Yet when that nation takes pride in what they have, as if they had gained it for themselves, they in danger of a judgement that will humble them. So the metaphorical ship that is Tyre, is described as if in high seas, heavy with cargo. And here Ezekiel predicts the east wind (Babylon in the east) breaking her to pieces with her merchants and all the people and goods above on board. She will therefore sink into the sea, with all shorelands and seamen mourning her passing. Seeing the one who satisfied nations and enriched the kings of the earth gone, the inhabitants of the coastlands and their kings are also said to shudder in fear – no doubt because this could happen to them too (27v25-36). It brings home again that no matter how secure the nations of the earth assume they may be, their existence is subject to God’s will, and at Christ’s return, all that the world esteems will be lost.
            Next Ezekiel is to speak against the ruler of Tyre himself. Whether the ruler considered himself divine or not, he is said to presume he is equivalent to a god in his arrogance at the wisdom he exercised in enabling Tyre to prosper (see 28v4). Ezekiel is clear that he is not only just a man, but not wiser than Daniel, because he is not privileged to revelations from the true God. This description suggests the Daniel of our Old Testament is in mind (so also 14v14, 20), and was well known by this point, having been taken into exile in 605BC, twenty years earlier. Here God affirms the ruler’s wisdom and skill in trading, but denounces the fact that his heart has grown proud because of it. Because of this, he is going to bring the Babylonians against him, and they will bring the city down to the pit in the heart of the seas – referring to the geographical location of Tyre. The sense is that the ruler will not then be able to claim divinity, seeing he is nothing more than a man, dying like the uncircumcised that are not chosen of God (28v1-10). Only at the final judgement will all see just how weak and reliant on God they are.
            What follows is a famous oracle that seems patterned on the pride of Adam that led to his fall. This is wholly appropriate as he was to be ruler over the creation, and so is the paradigm for all human rule. God affirms the king of Tyre as a model of perfection, full of wisdom and beauty, living in Eden, and adorned with jewels like Israel’s priests (Ex 28v17-20), that were prepared on the day he was created. No doubt this refers to the wealth he enjoyed and the luxurious nature of the city he lived in and was to care for. He is therefore also pictured as the cherub from Eden, perhaps picking up his role of guarding his paradise-like city against invaders as if it was God’s holy mountain. The “fiery-stones” may be the coals of the altar in Israel’s temple, stressing this care was a priest-like role. Whether it is or not, he is said to be blameless until wickedness found him. Obviously this is an exaggeration to stress the pattern to Eden. The point is that trouble started when the king’s trade led him to do violence to others, no doubt in greed for more. This is described as corrupting his wisdom, because it was a corruption of right ways to go about trade. We are also told the king became proud at the beauty of Tyre. And it is for these reasons that God expelled him from the city, reducing him to ashes, and making him a spectacle of horror before other kings. The fall of this ruler is a salutary lesson to all engaged in business of how a desire for more and pride in achieving it can so easily lead to doing wrong to attain it. Indeed, there is a sense in which this desire for personal gain and proud assumption that we know best in how to achieve it lies behind all sin.
            28v20-24 records an oracle against Sidon, further up the coast from Tyre. We’re not told what their sins were. But Ezekiel declares God will gain glory within the region as its people come to know he is the LORD when he displays his holiness by inflicting punishment against them with plague and with sword. This means that Israel will no-longer have neighbours just to the north who will cause them harm like thorns, and on witnessing this they will know the one who speaks through Ezekiel is the LORD their God. This oracle seems placed here as God then speaks of gathering Israel from the nations, affirming that they will then be able to settle safely in the land because God will have punished the neighbouring nations who spoke against them (28v25-26). This is a key purpose to the many judgements we have read of. At one level they justly punish sin. At another they protect the returning remnant so that the Christ can eventually be born and God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 12v1-3) be finally fulfilled. In the same way, the final judgement will destroy the wicked so God’s people can live in safety within the new creation.
            God says that the return will be a means by which he shows his holiness amongst Israel to the nations. This probably refers to how he will show his holy anger at sin in his judgements on the nations and on Babylon, which will enable the people to return. But it may include him showing how superior to the false gods of the world he is in having the power to work such a deliverance. We should note his holiness in both these things.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his holiness seen in judging sin and securing an everlasting kingdom for his people. Pray that you would not be tempted to sin by greed and pride.
Thinking further:
None today.

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