Wednesday, 26 November 2014

(331) November 27: Ezekiel 36-37 & 1 Peter 3

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 God says about the future of his people.

To ponder:
These chapters are two of the most important in the book for understanding the New Testament. Ezekiel is now called to speak against the mountains, and so land of Israel. Just as Edom had coveted the land (35v10) so God says Israel’s enemies had, claiming the heights as their possession. But he responds that they hounded the people in order to take the land, and slandered it – by implying Israel’s exile from it resulted from impotence or rejection by their God (see 36v13-15 below). The LORD therefore declares to the various features of the land and the ruined towns that he has spoken against the nations, so they themselves will suffer scorn. This stems from his burning zeal which seems synonymous with his jealous wrath – implying that he is passionately outraged at the nations taking his own land to be theirs. He then promises that after acting against the nations, the land will be fruitful, as his people will soon return and he will multiply them (and their livestock) so the towns will be rebuilt, and the people not only settle as they had before, but be even more prosperous. Then the land will metaphorically know the one speaking through Ezekiel is the LORD – ie. he will have proved himself the living God (36v1-11), just as he will have when we find ourselves raised to enjoy this to the extreme within the new creation.
            God continues that the land will again be his people’s inheritance and it will never again deprive them of their children – no doubt a reference to it spitting them out because of their sin in fulfilment of God’s covenant promise (36v12, 17, see Lev 18v24-28). This theology of land in which its fruitfulness and security was a reflection of the power and nature of its god, pervades this section. So the people are portrayed as taunting the land for loosing its inhabitants to exile, and God declares it will no longer hear those taunts because he will ensure this doesn’t happen again (36v13-15). The LORD goes on to explain that the people were scattered because they defiled the land by their bloodshed and idolatry so that he judged them accordingly and poured his wrath on them. Yet wherever they then went, they profaned God’s name (ie. reputation) because of the assumptions about gods and land the nations had. They would have assumed that either God had proved unfaithful to people, or unable to defeat the gods of other nations so they could keep their land (36v16-21). The godless person who claims faith in Christ, should recognize the same seriousness accompanies their action. If they suffer judgement for it, as some do (see Acts 5, 1 Cor 11v27-34) this can profane God’s name as non-Christians might assume he has abandoned the person without reason or is incapable of keeping them from such trial.
            In response to all this, God stresses that what he is about to say he will do is not for his people’s sake, but for the sake of his name. Their actions have desecrated that name so that it is no-longer regarded as set-apart and so holy. He is therefore going to sanctify it, and show how set-apart in his purity and power he is, so that the nations will know that he is the LORD. He is going to do this by (1) returning the people to the land in a sort of second Exodus, (2) cleansing them from the guilt of sin that has defiled them – where the sprinkling with water picks up ideas of ritual washing and the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifices, (3) giving them new hearts that are no longer hardened to himself because his Spirit lives in them, moving them to obey his laws (36v22-27). It is this twofold work of dealing with guilt and then grip of sin, that lies behind Jesus’ teaching of new birth by water and the Spirit in which he draws a parallel with his work on the cross and his gift of life (Jn 3v5, 15). Although the people returned to the land in the fifth century BC, we therefore see a hint that Ezekiel’s prophecy would only be truly fulfilled in Christ.
            The point is that then God’s covenant relationship will be able to be maintained. The people will live in the land as his people and no longer be unclean. So they will experience the covenant promise of fruitfulness to the land being fulfilled, and no longer be disgraced in the eyes of the nations because of a famine that implies their God is unfaithful or impotent. Then, God says they will remember and loathe their prior practice. And, as if it ensure they don’t presume this future implies their actions have been anything less than disgraceful, he reminds them he is not bringing these things about for their sake (36v28-32). They are acts of pure grace.
            God adds that on the day of Israel’s cleansing, they will be resettled and become secure, the land will be cultivated until it is like Eden, and the nations will know the LORD has rebuilt what he destroyed. He states that this will be in response to a plea from Israelites, and implies they will then live in worship of him, as the cities will be filled with people like the flocks that are gathered as offerings during Israel’s feasts (36v33-38). We should not get too caught up in the chronology here. The point is that although the people did resettle in the fifth century, God’s act of cleansing his people and restoring the kingdom to a supreme state is one “day” (ie. period) of God’s action. Through Christ we know it spans his two comings. As he says to Nicodemus (Jn 3v3), it is only those who have been born again (fulfilling 36v25-27) who will see the kingdom (fulfilling 36v28-31).
            In chapter 37 God’s Spirit transports Ezekiel to a valley of bones. Their dryness shows they have been long dead. God asks if they can live to which Ezekiel affirms only God knows. Ezekiel is then told to prophesy to the bones, that God will make breath enter them and cause them to become enfleshed and alive. As Ezekiel prophesies, the bodies are re-constituted but not yet alive. He is then told to call breath to enter the slain so they live, and they come to life as a vast army. This is then explained: The bones represent dead Israelites (no doubt recalling those slain by Babylon) with a sense of this meaning that they are cut off from God’s promises (just made) of a glorious kingdom in the land. So God promises to open their graves, bring them to life by his Spirit, and settle them securely in the land (the inference of being an army), where they will know he is God (37v1-14). Verse 1 implies this is a vision. A metaphorical fulfilment in which this simply stresses there is still hope for the nation, or that looks to faithful Israelites coming spiritually alive in order to submit to Christ as king, is quite possible. However, the descriptions of life in the land (36v25, 37v22-28) these people will then enjoy, imply the final state, making a more literal fulfilment as faithful Israelites are raised from death more likely (see Jn 5v28-30). This would suggest that the full restoration of the kingdom Ezekiel has prophesied lies the others side of the resurrection (see chs 47-48).
            Ezekiel is then instructed to symbolise God uniting the northern and southern kingdoms in the land by the uniting of two sticks as one. He adds that they will be forever united under one Davidic king and shepherd, and having been cleansed, will no longer defile themselves as they had. The inference that they will be there forever with their children and children’s children under the same king, implies the eternal life of the resurrected state, and also that God’s intent for faith to be passed to each generation will have been fulfilled to some extent by this group. To them, he promises an everlasting covenant agreement, security, increase of numbers, his temple presence (see chs 40-46), and the relationship in which he is their God and they his people – and all so the nations know that God’s presence makes his people holy (ie. it sets them apart as an obedient people). This all looks to the great multitude inhabiting a new creation that is filled with the presence of God (Rev 21v22-27).

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his readiness to raise and renew his people to inhabit the kingdom. Pray that you would faithfully teach this hope to the next generation.
Thinking further:
None today.

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