The man to whom God is all in all,
who feels his life-roots hid with Christ in God,
who knows himself the inheritor of all wealth and worlds and ages,
yea, of power essential and in itself,
that man has begun to be alive indeed.
—George MacDonald (Unspoken Sermons)
You’ve got to love a surprise inheritance. Imagine someone rooting through an old chest only to find a family fortune that had been carefully tucked away for a rainy day. Instantly, your fortunes are changed. It didn’t matter what you were before the inheritance was uncovered—what matters is your new identity, and how you will live your new life.
Something similar to this happened to Ezekiel’s exilic community. God remembered his ancient promises about a land to call their own, and told Ezekiel:
I swore to give it to your ancestors, and this land shall fall to you as your inheritance. (v. 14, NRSV)
. . .
In this last section of Ezekiel, Yahweh prophetically redistributed the land that he promised long ago. I think it’s worth remembering that they were still living as refugees in Babylon—this is the ultimate example of unabashed hope. Sure, you may be in Babylon now, but God remembered what he promised to your ancestors, and you’ll get what’s coming!
There are three elements of these two verses that I thought were acutely profound:
1. God owns everything.
The unspoken assumption in these verses is that God owns the land, and can distribute it as he pleases. This is an affirmation of a verse from the Torah:
The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. (Leviticus 25:23, NRSV)
We’ve looked at this concept earlier, but it’s so foreign to consumer-culture we need to remind ourselves continually. I can purchase a piece of land with a house on it, spend thirty years of my life paying down a mortgage, offer annual taxes to the government on the property, and still not own it in a biblical sense. I’m only taking care of it for Yahweh. What type of tenant will I be?
2. God remembers his promises.
There’s a curious little sentence in v. 13: “Joseph shall have two portions” (NRSV). In these five words, God recalled his original promise through Jacob on his deathbed (see Genesis 48-49). Did you ever wonder why there is no tribe of Joseph, while all of his other brothers have tribes named after them? It’s because Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephriam, are both allotted a share of God’s blessing. This would make thirteen tribes, except that the tribe of Levi was set apart to be priests to God without land—God was their inheritance. We’re left the traditional twelve.
God remembers his promises from centuries past when he acts in the present. Given the unknowable majesty of God, it’s comforting to know that he’s consistent. What he says, he does.
3. God anticipates unity.
This is probably the most important aspect of these verses—yet it’s so easy to miss. God’s twelve tribes had been divided into rival kingdoms (Israel and Judah) for centuries. For hundreds of years, you wouldn’t speak about the twelve tribes. The tragedy of exile that is chronicled in Ezekiel is what happened to Judah, the southern tribe—Israel had fallen years before.
When Ezekiel spoke of the twelve tribes being restored, he was telling the Judean exiles that they would return to the land with their brothers to the north. Unity was a prerequisite to promise.
In light of this truth, I wonder: what does God think when he looks at the fragmented denominational wars in today’s religious scene?
. . .
Lord God, thank you for being faithful to your promises. Help us to move forward in love and unity as we see your Kingdom come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.