Tag Archives | Ezekiel

Thank You!

It’s hard to believe. A couple years have passed and we’ve read through all of Ezekiel together. I hope you’ve benefited from looking at the text closely with me. I know my attitudes about the Old Testament prophets have certainly changed.

This blog is titled, “Meditations on Ezekiel”. Now that we’re through the text, I won’t be adding any more content. I’ll leave the blog running for a while so people can access the archives. There’s a 150 or so devotions worth of content.

For the future, keep an eye on stephenbarkley.com. Right now, it redirects to this blog. However, I plan on setting up a more general blog with more diverse content from multiple authors.

On last thing. If you’ve journeyed through the text of Ezekiel for the last couple years, you might want to set aside some time to read through the book one more time rather quickly. You’ll be amazed how it all fits together.

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the
month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were
opened, and I saw visions of God. (Ezekiel 1:1, NRSV)

Thanks for joining me on the ride.

In Christ,
Steve.

< Ezekiel 48:35 | Unending Presence

Christmas Break

Thanks to everyone who has been reading this blog.  It has turned out to be a lot more involving than I first had thought. I trust you are letting God speak through Ezekiel to in- and trans-form your life.

I will be taking a break over the Christmas holidays. Expect Ezekiel 18:1ff. to come online during the first or second week of January.

Merry Christmas!
Steve.

Administrative Notice

Just so anyone reading this knows, I am taking some holidays from the office this fall, so I am going to miss this week’s devotions.

Once I’m back, I will be posting one devotion per week due to the increased schedule of the fall season.

In Christ,
Steve.

PS — I hope you stick around with Ezekiel.  The first 1/2 of the book is mostly doom and gloom, while the second half is mostly messages of hope.  The messages of hope, however, can only be interpreted in light of the severe judgment.  Good things are on the horizon.

Ezekiel 9:1-7: Judgment Begins

Love is not blind; that is the last thing it is.
Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.
— G. K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy)

The time for talking is over.  God’s love constrains him to act.

Ezekiel witnessed atrocities that made his priestly blood curdle:

  1. There was a statue in God’s court that provoked outrageous jealousy.
  2. 70 civic leaders of Jerusalem were found worshiping every god under the sun.
  3. Women were weeping the Tammuz, in honour of a mythical god.
  4. A group of people turned their backsides to God’s temple as they bowed before the sun.

Centuries of wickedness would be punished in a moment. God shouts, and his six executioners ready their weapons for the massacre.  They gather at God’s bronze alter, which had been moved to the corner—ironically, to make room for Ahaz’s pagan alter.

God’s commands were simple and direct:  “Slaughter everyone who does not have my mark on them.  Start at the temple—where the wickedness is most manifest.  Pile the dead bodies in the temple: I’m  leaving.”

. . .

A seventh man arrived with the six executioners.  He looks out of place.  In place of armor: linen—the type of fabric that was used to clothe priests and angels.  In place of a weapon: a writing case.  His role was to go through Jerusalem ahead of the executioners, and to place a mark on the forehead of everyone who moans and groans over the wickedness of their city.

The mark was more significant than a simple “X”—the kind of mark a triage nurse would put on an accident victim needing immediate care.  This mark was a tau, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  When written in cursive script, it formed a cross.  In ancient times, it was often used as a symbol of ownership.  God owned these people—they didn’t belong to the executioners.

What did it take to receive this life-saving mark?  You had to be a person who moaned and groaned over the spiritual state of Jerusalem.  Ezekiel uses these same words later to label the grief he felt when his wife died!  This is not a group of old men leaning against the local coffee shop complaining about the state of the world.  These are people whose hearts were rent at the wickedness around them.

. . .

How does evil in the church make you feel?  When you see greedy pseudo-evangelists grasping for money, does it make you sick—or do you laugh it off?  When a church covers up scandalous action  to save face in their community, do you play along or cry out?  Does sin in God’s church anger you?

I’m not talking about wickedness in the world at large.  Israel knew better—the surrounding nations were not being punished.  The church knows better—we must not condemn the world in our self-righteous fury.

“The time has come for judgment to begin with the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17, NRSV).

. . .

Righteous Lord, let us see sin through your eyes.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 8:16-18 | Solar Cult

Ezekiel 9:8-11 | Intercession >

Ezekiel 8:16-18: Solar Cult

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?

. . .

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.

. . .

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?

. . .

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.

< Ezekiel 8:14-15 | Fisher-King

Ezekiel 9:1-7 | Judgment Begins >

Ezekiel 8:14-15: Fisher-King

[Christ’s] righteousness is greater than the sins of all men,
his life stronger than death,
his salvation more invincible than hell.
— Martin Luther (The Freedom of a Christian)

Tammuz is only mentioned here in the Old Testament.  All Ezekiel tells us is that women were sitting around weeping for him. In order to find out what Tammuz is all about, we will need to look at other ancient documents.  Wikipedia has a great article about him complete with links to original texts if you want to search deeper.

Tammuz was a fisherman-king who reigned for 100 years before the flood. While he reigned, he enjoyed many love affairs with a girl named Inana.  After a while, Inana decided to visit her sister who was queen of the underworld.  She passed through seven gates to get there, leaving a piece of clothing behind at each gate.  She arrived naked to find her sister’s throne empty.  Inana had the boldness to sit down on it, and was judged instantly for her presumption by being turned into a corpse on a hook.  Apparently, the gods of the underworld don’t take kindly to this type of intrusion.

Inana’s servant begged all the gods to help, and eventually Enki came to her rescue.  Inana was resurrected with one catch: she had to find a soul to replace her in death.  She checked out a lot of people, but didn’t have the heart to condemn any of them to her former fate.  Eventually she found her former lover, Tammuz, sitting on her throne while she was in the underworld. Appalled at his impunity, she condemned him to her fate.

Tammuz tried to outrun his demonic escort to the underworld, and hid with his sister Geshtinana.  The ruse was unsuccessful, and Tammuz was taken to the underworld. Finally, Inana felt a little guilty, and changed the deal: Geshtinana could take Tammuz’ place in the underworld for six months of every year.

Like many ancient myths, the cycle of death and rebirth echoes the agricultural cycle.  The women in Ezekiel’s day had picked up on the quasi-religious ceremonies of their neighbours, and mourned Tammuz’s temporary death.

This simple ceremony may seem harmless, but it betrays a fundamental unbelief in Yahweh—the only real God who was their source of life.

. . .

As strange as it may sound, the one true God would die.  In about 600 years, he would be killed by the very people he came to rescue.  Unlike Tammuz, however, God’s death in Jesus was a real even that rescued his creation from eternal death.  This was more than the cycle of spring-time and harvest.  Jesus’ death was a once-for-all event that changed the course of history forever.

Yahweh is the one true God.  He is not held hostage by demons—he is the Lord of everything, with power even over death.  Death has been a constant fear of humans throughout history.  It is an unknown that provokes feelings of loss, insecurity, and temporality.  Yet for the follower of Jesus, death is one fear that we are free from.  Loss is temporary.  Insecurity is replaced with salvation.  Temporality becomes eternal life.

. . .

Eternal God, thank you for the security we have in you.  Thank you that you have complete power over everything—even death.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 8:7-13 | Loathsome Animals

Ezekiel 8:16-18 | Solar Cult >

Ezekiel 8:7-13: Loathsome Animals

It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. — Henry David Thoreau (Walden)

Jerusalem’s civic leaders were doing desperate things. They had usurped the authority of the priesthood and set up stalls of worship to a multitude of false gods.  The city officials knew that they were in danger.  Citizens had already been deported, and they would have assumed that a full-scale attack on their city was only a matter of time.

The priests obviously were not doing their job.  Yahweh was not protecting the city.  The city officials decided to take control of the situation, and set up cubicles of worship to every conceivable god.  Maybe Yahweh had been beaten by one of these other gods.  Let’s cover all of our bases.

. . .

Ezekiel does not hesitate to call the idols what they truly are.  He uses language that is blunt and offensive.  If the Hebrew he used was understood and used in our churches, we would probably pull the speaker away from the podium with the crook of a shepherd’s staff.  The “loathsome” animals (v. 10, NRSV) were literally pellets of excrement.  We have an colloquialism to express that measure of contempt in the English language—use your imagination.

Anything that is worshiped in the place or alongside Yahweh is worth nothing more than the stuff we flush down the porcelain throne daily.

. . .

There is a double irony in these verses.  The first concerns Jaazaniah.  We do not know who he is, but Ezekiel obviously recognized him.  His name means literally, “Yahweh hears.” Yet there he is, worshiping pellets of excrement saying, “the LORD does not see us” (v. 12, NRSV).  He did not realize that the idols are the ones who cannot see or hear:

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
they make no sound in their throats.
Psalm 115:4-7 (NRSV)

The second irony is even more tragic.  The city officials were trying to cover all their bases.  They were worshiping every god they could think of, in the desperate hope that one of them would hear them.  Unbeknown to them, their worship of those other gods was the very reason why Yahweh was bringing judgment on them. Yahweh had not forgotten them; they mistook judgment for silence and further infuriated the already jealous lover.

. . .

This tragedy teaches us an important truth: God does see and hear us.  The Israelites knew this, but had forgotten as the generations passed.  The city officials were burning incense to the false gods they served, when that incense was supposed to be a symbol that Yahweh hears their prayers!

I call upon you, O LORD; come quickly to me
give ear to my voice when I call to you.
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.
Psalm 141:1-2 (NRSV)

. . .

Thank you, Lord, for hearing us when we pray.  You are always with us, and always ready to listen.  Help us also to listen when you speak with us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 8:5-6 | Look, Mortal

Ezekiel 8:14-15 | Fisher King >

Ezekiel 8:5-6: Look, Mortal

God the Creator is ontologically not part of the world, nor is the world part of God.
— Diogenes Allen (Philosophy for Understanding Theology)

The betrayed Lover has taken action.  He has dragged his prophet to Jerusalem and will now show Ezekiel just how far the betrayal has gone.  In four scenes, God will reveal how much Israel has done to offend him.

Did Ezekiel know the extent of idolatry his people were embroiled in when he still lived in Jerusalem?  Did he go about his own life faithfully, and turn his head when he heard rumours of corruption?  We don’t know.  We do know is that God is metaphorically holding Ezekiel’s eyeballs open and forcing him to stare at four scenes that show Israel’s wickedness.

“Look, mortal…”

. . .

Most people believe that there is some sort of god.  There are mixed reasons for this.  Some people grasp it intuitively—others just can’t bear to think that death might be final.  Whatever the reason, all cultures have searched for god.

The problem with this search for god is our own finitude.  It’s utterly impossibility for finite beings like us to conceive or apprehend a being that is infinite.  How can a flea apprehend Pleiades?  Even there, the analogy is poor: even constellations are finite.

Placed into this type of situation, humans do what they understand.  They use finite things to represent what they cannot apprehend.  Thus the outrageous statue of jealousy.

. . .

God understands our natural bent toward idolatry.  He knows that we can never grasp him—unless he first chooses to show himself to us.  And that is exactly what God did.  On Mount Sinai to Moses, in the desert to the Israelites, and in the temple to the priests, God showed Israel what he was like.  Unfortunately, it did not satisfy them.

They built a statue to represent God—a monument to nothing more than human futility—and placed it right where the true God lived with his people.  Insanity.  What was the result of this statue?  Like a former lover’s photo on a spouse’s nightstand, it would serve to drive the true God away from his sanctuary (v. 6).

. . .

God knows that we need something tangible to understand spiritual truth. Enter: Jesus.  God made flesh.  The divine mystery incarnate.  True God and true man.  God who was ontologically separate from his creation choosing to step into the scene he made.

The question for us is are we content with the way God chose to show himself in Jesus, or are we running after other ways to feel fulfilled?

. . .

One True God, show us a picture of Jesus as we read about him in your Word.  Satisfy our spiritual hunger with the true bread of heaven. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 8:1-4 | Outrageous Jealousy

Ezekiel 8:7-13 | Loathsome Animals >

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