The God-side of the event whose world-side is called return
is called redemption.
— Martin Buber (I and Thou)
When something seemingly mundane is repeated four times, it’s usually important.
If I was to say, “September 11, 2006, five years later, at the very hour, right then, something happened”, you would understand that the significance of that event depended on its association with the collapse of the Twin Towers.
Ezekiel dated his visions all through the book, but here he dates the vision in four complementary ways:
- In the twenty-fifth year of our exile,
- and the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month,
- in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down,
- on that very day” (40:1, NRSV)
Do you get the impression that whatever Ezekiel’s trying to say finds its significance in the timing?
. . .
The content of this vision takes us right to the end of Ezekiel’s book. This vision is a picture of restored Israel. It includes a detailed description of the restored Temple, along with the return of God’s glory. It gives a picture of Torah restored, along with their land and city. In one of Ezekiel’s most memorable passages, the prophet sees water coming out from under the Temple. That water turns into a river too deep to swim in.
The content is all good news, but the timing is paradoxical. They’re still in captivity, and they’ve been there for a long time. Let’s look at the date notices in reverse order.
- “On that very day”This again indicates the significance of the timing of this vision. You don’t say it happened “on that very day”, unless that very day is significant.
You often here stories like this around church: I’ve been discouraged for a month and just when I thought no one cared, at that very time, you showed up to visit me. “That very time” is significant.
- “In the fourteenth year after the city was struck down”This vision has been a long time coming. Jerusalem was destroyed fourteen years earlier! What were you doing fourteen years ago? Can you imagine longing—praying—for something for fourteen years without hearing an answer?
Ezekiel was still sticking with it. He was faithful to God’s Spirit for over a decade, sharing whatever God asked him to. Now, after such a long time, God gave him an overwhelming picture of hope for the future.
- “The beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month”This is a specific date, which adds realism to the account. This vision was a real experience—not something made up to give false hope. You can almost here the wonderment in the text: “It actually happened. On January 10, that very day, it happened!”
(In care you’re wondering, I know the “beginning of the year” for Ezekiel wasn’t January. The issue is complicated, so I just used January to make the point.)
- “In the twenty-fifth year of our exile”This is the most important indicator. Do you know what was supposed to happen every 50 years in Israel? Jubilee. After seven times seven sabbath years, there was a year of Jubilee proclaimed.
During that year, a bunch of good things were supposed to happen. Slaves were released, land was returned to the original owners, the law was read, and debts were forgiven.
This vision didn’t happen in the twenty-fifth year of Ezekiel’s exile for no reason. This was the year they turned the corner. They were half way there. They had suffered for a long time, but they were now on the downward slope towards jubilee. The slaves would return to their ancestral home.
. . .
Ezekiel died in Babylon. Like Moses, he received a vision of God’s promised land, but never entered it himself. Where does that leave us?
Is it possible that God could give us hope to live, without fulfilling his promises in our lifetime? Could some of the things we’ve been praying for for fourteen years be answered in our children’s lifetime? God counts time in millennia, not days.
Hope is why we live. Resurrection—God’s Spirit breathed into our dead bodies—is our hope. In the long years before resurrection, let’s live from that place of hope.
. . .
Lord God, energize me with your hope so I can live more effectively. In Jesus’ name, Amen.