Ezekiel 46-48

Ezekiel 46-48…The Lord is There.

Today we conclude our overview of the book of Ezekiel. As part of the group of Judah’s leading citizens that was carried off into exile along with King Jehoiachin in 597/598 BC, Ezekiel was called to reach a people who had a hard time believing Jerusalem and the temple could ever fall fully and finally. God called the prophet to use vivid, symbolic language and actions to convince the Jews in Babylon of His intent to destroy Jerusalem and the temple because of the people’s impenitent idolatry (Ezekiel 1–10). Though there was always a faithful remnant of Israel and Judah consisting of men such as Ezekiel, the nation as a whole had become a useless vine, a fruitless planting because it obeyed false prophets and committed spiritual adultery (11–24). However, the prophet’s message was not only doom and gloom, for the exiles still had reason to hope. Those who realized that they remained in Babylon because of their own impenitence could be forgiven by forsaking their evil and returning to the Lord. In fact, Ezekiel promised that God would finally accomplish this restoration by giving His people new hearts and filling them with His Spirit (25–39).

With the people restored, the Lord would return to dwell among His people in an earth renewed by His bestowal of life-giving water (40–47). The formerly unholy people would be made holy fully and finally. This is what is communicated in today’s passage, which describes the specific territories given to the twelve tribes of Israel in the restoration period. It is best to interpret these not as literal land grants, given the symbolism of this final section of Ezekiel, but as metaphors pointing to the fact that the full number of God’s people will be saved. No one chosen for kingdom citizenship will be left without an inheritance; the salvation of our God will create a complete nation just as the full nation of Israel consists of all twelve tribes of the reunified Israel and Judah (48:29). At the very center of this kingdom are the priests and the prince, for that is where their land exists (vv. 8–14; vv. 21–22). Finally and most incredibly, this restoration will be a permanent state of affairs. God puts His name on the central city of the renewed nation: “The LORD is There” (v. 35).

It would take a fuller revelation of our Creator’s plan and purpose to see the means by which the Lord would bring all these things to pass. God, prince, and priest would stand at the center of the Lord’s new people because the Almighty Himself would take on a human nature in order to be the perfect prince and priest for His elect (John 1:1–18; Heb. 7:23–25).

Advertisements

Ezekiel 43-45

Ezekiel 43-45…The Glory of the Lord

Speaking to His old covenant people in terms they could understand, God inspired the prophet Ezekiel to describe a future temple that would be built when the Lord brought the people back to their land. As noted in yesterday’s study, various features of this structure indicate that God never meant for Israel to build the temple Ezekiel spoke of. Instead, the vision was a metaphorical way of telling the exiles that life in the restoration would recall the glory days of Solomon and his magnificent temple in Jerusalem. Though there had been much suffering in exile, God would resurrect the nation and bless it in a manner that would far surpass anything it had yet experienced.

Ezekiel 43:1–12 confirms this in the prophet’s vision of the Creator’s glory filling the new post-exilic temple. In the Old Testament, the phrase glory of the LORD often describes the visible manifestation of the divine presence as an overwhelming cloud that signifies God’s approval. For example, the glory cloud filled Solomon’s temple, conveying to the people that the Lord was pleased with the structure and would meet there with His people (2 Chron. 7:1–3). This cloud is exactly what Ezekiel saw in the vision he describes in today’s passage.

The prophet’s original audience must have found this vision particularly encouraging. Recall that earlier in his ministry, Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord leave the temple, signifying the withdrawal of His protection from Jerusalem, His judgment on the people, and the coming fall of the city to Babylon (Ezek. 10–11). Would God abandon His people forever? This was the question that this original vision provoked. The vision of the glory’s return represents a resounding “no.” For His own name sake, to prove that He had not lied when He promised to bless Abraham, the Lord had to return (36:16–38; see Gen. 15). God did not have to save anyone, but once He made a covenant with the patriarch, He was bound by His own nature to keep His promises. Thus, Matthew Henry comments, “Though God may forsake his people for a small moment, he will return with everlasting loving-kindness.”

As God’s glory had departed to the east, it would return to the temple from the east (Ezek. 43:4). In its return, it would purify the nation. Following the restoration from exile, the nation would no longer practice harlotry, that is, idolatry. Neither would it venerate deceased kings (vv. 6–9). The return would be a new start with a cleansed people not marked by the sins that sent them and their forefathers into exile in the first place.

Ezekiel 33-36

Ezekiel 33-36…God-centered focus.

Human beings in their fallen condition struggle to take their focus off of themselves and put it on God where it belongs. We easily recognize this when we see people unashamedly try to amass glory for themselves. But the tendency to make people big and God small often shows itself with such subtlety that we miss it. This is evident in how we tend to understand salvation. Often we believe that our Creator undertook redemption principally for our sake, that our rescue was the fundamental goal in sending His Son to die for sinners. Certainly, we would not want to deny that the Lord fulfilled His great plan of salvation because of His great love for humanity. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). However, at the end of the day, our salvation is primarily for the Lord’s sake—for His glory.

Ezekiel 36:16–38 reveals this truth plainly. God says in verse 22 that His rescue of Israel from sin and exile is not for the nation’s sake but “the sake of [His] holy name.” The implication is that the Lord had to save His people to keep His honor. But how can this be if the Bible teaches that salvation is wholly undeserved, that nothing in us requires God to redeem us?

The answer is that salvation is the Lord’s self-imposed obligation. He freely covenanted with Abraham and His seed, but He did so via swearing an oath by Himself that He would bless the patriarch’s family forever (Gen. 15; Heb. 6:13–20). Essentially, God said that He should be destroyed if He broke His promise. By His own will, the Lord made His honor contingent upon blessing Abraham. If all the patriarch’s offspring were to miss this blessing, He would prove to be a liar and suffer the loss of His glory. The Lord did not have to make a vow to Abraham, but once He did, His own character bound Him to bless the patriarch’s offspring, though not necessarily everyone who can trace their physical ancestry back to him.

Lest anyone rightly accuse God of not being true to His word of salvation, Israel’s exile would have to end. Ezekiel foresaw this end of exile, predicting that the Lord would rescue His people from the nations, cleanse them from sin, and give them new hearts of flesh (Ezek. 36:23–32). God would likewise compromise His character if, in redeeming His people, He allowed them to remain unholy, for those who bear Yahweh’s name must be a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). The Lord revealed His sovereign work of regeneration in this vision, for He alone would be the one to change the hearts of His people.

Ezekiel 1-12

Ezekiel 1-12…The Vision.

Immediately after describing the historical circumstances of his prophetic call, Ezekiel describes his first vision of the Lord. This incredible vision has perplexed many people in the modern world, for the imagery is indeed strange to us. More sensational readings of Ezekiel 1:4–28 have even suggested that the passage describes an encounter that the prophet had with extraterrestrials. Such theories impress upon us the importance of paying attention to the historical and literary context of the Bible so that we might escape ludicrous speculation, for Ezekiel’s vision makes perfect sense in his own setting.

The prophet’s vision concerns “four living creatures” that served as a type of chariot for the divine throne, the place from which “the likeness of the glory of the Lord” spoke to Ezekiel (vv. 4, 26, 28). Each of these beings had four different faces—human, eagle, lion, and ox (v. 10). In Scripture, each of these creatures is significant. Human beings, of course, are made in the image and likeness of God, reflecting His capacity for wisdom, dignity, and so forth (Gen. 1:26–28). Eagles are prized in God’s Word for their speed and stateliness (Ps. 103:5; Jer. 48:40). The lion is known for its strength and courage (Judg. 14:5; Isa. 31:4), and oxen were found throughout the temple and the sacrificial system in which the presence of God was experienced (Num. 7; 1 Kings 7:23–37). Indeed, there were several elements in the temple that looked very similar to the creatures Ezekiel described, which indicates that these creatures carried the Lord Himself on His throne. Taken with the qualities mentioned above, they symbolize God’s omnipotence, wisdom, swiftness, and life-giving nature. Although archaeology has discovered figures and art of creatures that combine lions with eagles and so forth in the palaces and temples of other ancient Near Eastern peoples, other nations did not combine all four of the aforementioned creatures like we see in Ezekiel’s vision. This again points to the uniqueness of the Lord of Israel. He is the perfect embodiment of all of the attributes of deity, lacking nothing in Himself.

The throne above the expanse above the winged creatures (and their wheels; see Ezek. 1:15–20) recalls the pavement of God’s throne room, where the elders ate and drank before the Lord when the old covenant was inaugurated (Ex. 24:1–11; Ezek. 1:21–28). Thus, Ezekiel saw a vision of God about to go forth on His chariot. He was getting ready to move from His traditional dwelling place in Canaan.