Tuesday, 2 December 2014

(337) December 3: Ezekiel 47-48 & 1 John 1

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

To discover:­
As you read note how God’s grace is necessary for the fulfilment of each part.

To ponder:
Ezekiel is now returned to the entrance to the temple, where he sees a small stream of water coming out of the south side of the threshold and heading east, south of the altar and then out of the temple just south of the east facing outer gate (47v1-2). It seems Ezekiel exits via the north gate as the eastern one was closed. The meaning of the water flowing on the south side is unclear. But it flows towards the place of exile, perhaps symbolic of God’s blessing being accessible to those in Babylon, and paradigmatic of it being accessible to all exiled from his presence because of sin. In what follows, the man travels eastward measuring the water’s depth every 1500 feet, as it gets deeper and deeper until it becomes an un-crossable river (47v1-6). With no tributaries causing this, we’re seeing that this is simply due to its source in the temple – signifying the abundance of blessing God pours out. The water has two results: It causes trees to grow on its banks that will never wither, and with leaves that bring healing; and it makes the salt water of the Dead Sea fresh, enabling swarms of living creatures to live along it and in it.
            The symbolism is echoed by other prophets, and cautions us against reading the rest of the vision too literally. But nor should we be too quick to spiritualize it. In reality, the picture is of God bringing not both biological and spiritual life to that which is barren. First and foremost it would have been understood to promise the returning exiles that God is well able to renew them so that they lovingly worship and obey him, centred on their temple, and experience the covenant blessing on the land promised in Deuteronomy 28-30. It therefore also looks to that renewal of Israel (and others) by his Holy Spirit through Christ (as 36v24-27), and looks further ahead to the new creation, in which they will live forever in a world of abundance, and free from all sickness and death (Rev 22v1-5). We should remember too, that Jesus stood up in the temple and called all to come to him and drink, promising that streams of living water would then flow from them. John tells us this was a reference to the Holy Spirit (Jn 7v37-39). So Ezekiel’s vision is fulfilled in Jesus as the true temple-dwelling of God, from whom the blessing of God’s Spirit comes to those of all nations, who then themselves become a temple-dwelling of God, from which that blessing flows to others as they share the gospel.
            The man also tells Ezekiel that the swamps and marshes of the land will still be left for salt (47v11). This could be a practical act of provision, in which God leaves sufficient salt for the people to use for seasoning and preserving food. However, it may imply a set place apart from the place of God’s blessing, where curse is still experienced.
            47v13-48v29 records the division of the land, but not just for Judah, for the northern kingdom too (two portions are to be given to Joseph because his two sons were originally given a tribe’s portion each). This is significant as the northern tribes no longer existed in any definitive form in Ezekiel’s day, having been scattered by Assyria in 722BC. God cannot therefore be talking about a literal proportioning of the land to each tribe. He is predicting the reunification of the nation in Christ, incorporating returning exiles from Judah and any descended from the north who might join them, as well as those from other nations too. It is just this that we see in the book of Acts. And the man tells Ezekiel that the latter group in particular are to be considered as equal as native-born Israelites, sharing equally in the inheritance. It is not impossible that if the new creation is a renewed heavens and earth rather than a different one, Israelites who owned a true faith in Christ might receive the land as specified. But it seems more likely that Ezekiel’s vision is using the concepts familiar to the people in his day to stress that the nation will be united and receive just the inheritance God has determined for them, whatever form that might take (as 1 Pet 1v3-9). Indeed, Jesus teaches the meek will inherit the whole earth. We should be much encouraged.
            48v8-14 repeats earlier teaching about the portion of the land set-apart for the sanctuary and priests and Levites, which must not pass hands, as God has apportioned it. 48v15-20 then describes the land to be given to the city, and as land to supply food for those who work there. 48v21-22 specifies the land that would be the special portion of the prince. By including this earlier material here, we must recognise that the earlier vision of the temple’s design, those who served in it, and the segmenting of the land around it, has an ultimate symbolic reference in terms of what is received through the gospel of Christ, even if it also referred to the ideal the people should have aspired to when they first returned from Babylon.
            Finally, we read of how the gates to the city will be named after the tribes of Israel, and the city itself be a square of 4500 cubits on each side (about 1.5 miles). This is far smaller than the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21, but the note about the gates is the same (Rev 21v12). The point in Ezekiel is that the city represents the entirety of God’s people. And critical is its name: “The LORD is there.” This is the key thrust of Ezekiel’s vision and his entire message of hope. God will return to his people, and his presence is what will guarantee the fulfilment of his promises. We should marvel that just as the New Jerusalem is the bride of Christ (Rev 21v9-10), this title now refers to the church, guaranteeing all God’s promises to us.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his presence with his people by his Holy Spirit. Pray that you would be active in sharing the gospel so that this blessing might come to others.
Thinking further: Ezekiel’s vision
The vision stretching from chapters 40-48 is extremely hard to understand and commentators differ hugely on what to make of it. Any thoughts we have must therefore be very tentative. But from what we have studied, it seems to work on two key levels: First, we mustn’t forget the impact it would have had on the exiles. To them it would probably have been understood to be an idealistic picture of what they should aspire to as they re-populate the land and re-establish worship. It’s portrayal of these things as actually happening, would have given them confidence that by these things God would at some time bring the Davidic king, renew them and the land, and establish them as a united eternal kingdom with his temple-presence central to that (37v22-28). Second, whereas the people would not have known exactly how these things would be achieved, in the light of Christ, we must read the vision through him, and so understand it as also picturing God dwelling amongst, renewing and uniting his people as this eternal kingdom through Christ and in the church. Whereas the detail about the offerings, priests and Levites would have applied directly to the vision’s first fulfilment, these things would apply to the second only in affirming the church as an entity where lives are offered to God, and all his people serve the church according to his designation.

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