Sunday, 23 November 2014

(328) November 24: Ezekiel 29-31 & James 5

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 provoked God in Egypt.

To ponder:
The next oracle is against Pharoah and Egypt. Pharoah is pictured as a sea monster claiming the Nile is his. As with the King of Tyre, his problem is one of arrogance. So God promises to pull him out with his fish (the people of Egypt) sticking to his sides, and leave him in the desert as food for beasts – so that the people of Egypt will know Israel’s God is the LORD (29v1-6). Although this aim has been stressed throughout the book, here we can note it was God’s great concern in the Exodus. Even in times of temporal judgement he seeks worshippers.
           Pharoah is pictured as a staff of reed. Israel sought to lean on him through their alliance, only to be injured as it splintered (29v6-7). It is because of this unfaithfulness as well as Pharoah’s arrogance, that God says he will bring the sword to kill both men and animals, causing Egypt to be desolate for forty years, with the people scattered throughout the nations. This time period is fitting when once considers the years Israel had to spend in the desert having escaped Egypt. At its end, God promises to bring the Egyptians back to their land from captivity to be a lowly kingdom that will never exalt itself again above nations. The point is that Egypt will no longer be a place Israel seeks to rely on, but a reminder of her sin in turning from God to seek Egypt’s help. And so they will know, as Ezekiel’s words are fulfilled, that God is the sovereign LORD (29v8-16). Only reliance on God is secure and safe. What follows is a word in which God explains to Ezekiel that because Nebuchadnezzar got no reward from Tyre for his hard campaign there, God will bring him against Egypt to carry of its wealth a reward (29v17-20). It’s another affirmation of Nebuchadnezzar as the LORD’s servant.   
            29v21 seems to say that one day (which can be a period) Egypt is humbled a horn (symbolising power) will sprout up for Israel. This is the language of he promised Davidic king as a flourishing branch. It is therefore intended to give Israel hope that with although the one they relied on will be humbled, God will give them sufficient strength through his own king. And then they will know that what he enables Ezekiel to say in their present, was from him as God. It is as Christ fulfils the prophets that we find our faith strengthened, and recognize God spoke through them.
            A lament follows that describes the destruction in and around Egypt. On a day of doom for the nations in general we are told anguish will hit Egypt, her people will be killed, wealth taken and foundations destroyed. The fall of her allies including God’s covenant people will accompany this, so that they know God is the LORD. On that day messengers will bring the news to Cush causing fear. God will do this through Nebuchadnezzar, and it is described as a drying up of the Nile. By this means he will therefore destroy Egypt’s idols and royal line, and the distress of the various regions of Egypt is then stressed. It ends once more with a note that this will be to put her pride – or proud strength – to an end, and so break the yoke she puts on others. The language of fire, storm, darkness and cloud echoes that of Sinai, stressing God’s awesome presence (30v1-19).
            30v20-26 ensures Judah doesn’t keep relying on Egypt. It speaks of how God had already severely limited Pharoah’s ability to fight (no doubt through Babylon), yet adds that he will metaphorically break his second arm so he cannot wield a sword at all. He will then scatter the Egyptians, contrasting his action on Pharoah with a promise to actually strengthen the arms of Nebuchadnezzar and put a sword in his hand, all so Egypt know God is the LORD. Sometimes the loss of something we rely on when we should rely on God, is in order to ensure we look to him.
            A little later God’s word came again. Perhaps with some sarcasm, Ezekiel is to ask of Pharoah and his army who can compare with their majesty. He is then to describe Assyria as like a cedar in Lebanon, tall, thick, and nourishing other trees (nations) too which it majestically towered over, with all the great nations living in its shade and so under its protection. The description of how abundantly it was watered showed how it was blessed by God. Indeed, he says he made it so beautiful that none of the cedars in Eden could rival it (31v1-9). Yet, God says that it is explicitly because it was so high and took pride in that, that God handed it over to “the ruler of the nations” (ie. Nebuchadnezzar) to cut it down. The picture of its branches falling in mountains, valleys and ravines probably stresses its geographical size, and how the whole empire fell. So all the nations lefts its shade. This meant leaving its protection, implied perhaps by the beast now being able to get at the birds in its branches (31v1-13). 31v14 implies that in the light of the fall of Assyria others trees (nations) by waters (ie. blessed by God) should take warning, recognizing they are never to so proudly tower high, considering themselves above other trees, as that would likewise mean death among mortal men – a reminder that kings of even the greatest nations are mere mortals. God adds that on the day Assyria was brought down, he restrained the waters (of blessing) in mourning, bringing gloom to Lebanon and causing the nations to whither in fear, as all the best trees of Lebanon (ie. nations of the world), its allies, were “consoled” at Assyria’s fall in the grave, being killed by the sword too. Bracketing the chapter with 31v2, 31v18 asks which of these trees can compare with Egypt in splendour, yet Egypt will be brought down to lie with the other uncircumcised too. It’s yet another reminder that the seemingly greatest kings and nations are subject to God for any greatness, and can be removed in a moment if arrogant. Here, we might remember that through all Ezekiel’s prophecies God speaks as the “Sovereign LORD.” They stress that he is the true and only ultimate ruler.
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he rules everything and all are subject to him. Pray that you therefore be kept from pride at what he has given you.
Thinking further:
None today.

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