Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
— St. Francis of Assisi (All Creatures of Our God and King)
Repentance is a key concept throughout scripture. Biblical repentance can be understood as a two-part movement. You need to turn away from sin, and turn to God. By their actions, the Jewish people of Ezekiel’s day had repented of their fidelity to Yahweh.
When God showed Ezekiel the first three parts of the vision in chapter 8 (the statue, the 70 false gods, the women weeping for Tammuz), God warned Ezekiel that he would see even greater atrocities. This is the greatest atrocity.
Ezekiel notes the physical location of the people precisely. They at the entrance of Yahweh’s temple, with their backs to Yahweh so they can worship the sun in the east. If you want to visualize what was happening, they were bowing down to the east, while at the same time saluting Yahweh with their backsides. Does that image make you shudder?
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It’s interesting to note, however, that this was not the final insult that drove God to destroy them. Religious apostasy was a very serious crime, but even more serious was the civil violence Israel was inciting outside of Jerusalem.
God said, “Is it not bad enough that the house of Judah commits the abominations done here? Must they fill the land with violence, and provoke my anger still further?” (v. 17, NRSV). This is an incredibly selfless statement on God’s behalf. God is more concerned with injustice toward the surrounding nations than he is for crimes against himself.
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I think we see things backwards. We (somewhat subconsciously) believe that we need to be careful to worship God properly, and to attend church faithfully. Life outside the church is important, but not as important as the worship of God. God would have us reverse our thinking. God views our daily interactions outside the church as more important than the way we behave in the sanctuary.
How do we behave outside church? Are we honest, fair, kind, and all those other qualities that are supposed to mark a Christian—even in our dealings with unbelievers? Or do we ‘take our liberty’ knowing that Sunday is coming when we will make everything right with God again?
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Lord, make us transparent. Help us to be the same people outside the church building that we are inside—for your glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.