E z e k i e l 1 - 1 2
ADevotional COMMENTARY BY Nate Wilson
1:1-3 This first vision is set during the exhile in Babylon. What a commissioning service for Ezekiel! God overwhelmed him with a vision of the four great angels that surround His throne, the glory of heaven's throne, and then God Himself speaking. This is something Ezekiel would remember for the rest of his life! The description matches John's description of heaven remarkably. It was the 5th year since king Jehoiachin had been taken captive to Babylon, placing this prophecy at about 592B.C., so what is this the 30th year of? The Babylonian and Median empires both got started about 30 years before then; the Book of the Law was also rediscovered by the Jews about that time. Maybe it even refers to the Jubilee cycle. At any rate, Ezekiel clearly marks out the very day in history and the very location that God spoke to him.
1: 4-14 In this first vision, he sees a great cloud that was bright rather than dark like a storm cloud and had lightening continually flashing all in it. And in the cloud were four "living creatures" which may have resembled the Pegasus or Centaur of Greek mythology. (Maybe Ezekiel's vision is where the Greeks got the idea?) These creatures had hooves like a calf, the head of either a man, lion, ox, or eagle, two wings stretched up and two wings stretched out covering their bodies, and they sparkled and glowed and shone. They were also in constant rapid motion, directed by the Spirit of God, going wherever the Spirit dictated, turning neither to the right nor to the left.
These angels may have been the cherubim, which John the Revelator also describes around God's heavenly throne in Rev. 4:5-7-- the brightness and lightening are also part of John's vision, although his four creatures had 3 sets of wings rather than Ezekiel's two sets.
During a time in Jewish history when everything was going wrong and people must have wondered if God were really Who He said He was, here God gives Ezekiel tremendous reassurance. This is a tremendous display of raw power and energy. God is tremendously powerful and full of energy to do whatever He wants. See the great living creatures He has to carry out His will? They are strong as an ox, lethal as a lion, perceptive as an eagle, and intelligent as a man. They are perfectly attuned to God's Spirit and constantly do exactly as God directs them. They are not lethargic; God is in constant divine intervention with the affairs of His creation, and is quickly carrying out His will. The Exhile was not the result of God's lack of power, lack of glory, or lack of good angels to carry out His will!
God, this is encouraging for me, too, because when You don't seem to be working in power and You don't seem to be bringing to fulfillment the desires I have, it's easy to question You. Thank You for this reminder that You are powerful and glorious as ever, You are constantly sending fast, powerful, intelligent, sharp, perfectly obedient angels to carry out Your plans around the earth. The problem is not with You; it's with me. Please forgive me for doubting You and getting frustrated with You. Please forgive me for my lack of sensitivity and obedience to You. Please let Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!
1:15-22 The description of the wheels of the living creatures. Now we see some more similarities with John's Revelation--What John may have seen as a third set of wings may be what Ezekiel saw as wheels--both men describe them as covered with eyes. Both men also attribute a green color of heaven--Ezekiel says the wheels looked the color of beryl, a (usually) green gemstone and John used sapphire to describe the throne room. There must be a quality of the heavenly vision that reminded these men of gemstones with their bright, hard clarity--they could have used other organic things to describe the color, but they used precious stones.
The wheels seem to simply further illustrate the awesomeness and power and immensity of our God. The wheels were "huge" and "awesome." They were "full of eyes all around," indicating seeing everything. The wheels were part of the living beings. Wheels indicate movement. God is not just transcendent, He is imminently moving among the affairs of men. For some reason the wheels did not move by turning--they were stationary and simply floated with the living beings wherever they went. What does this mean?
1:22 Anyway, Ezekiel's attention to these fascinating creatures shifts to the "expanse" above them. He again uses a rock (crystal) to describe it.
1:23-24 The last thing Ezekiel notes is more detail on the creature's wings--significantly that they made a lot of noise--not just noise, but awe-inspiring and fearful sounds. The wings must have been very large and powerful to sound like an army or an ocean. This continues to drive home the power that God has at His disposal.
1:25 The crystal expanse is described now a little more in detail as looking like a throne and being bluish in colour (sapphire), but even greater than that was God Himself seated on the throne. Notice that Ezekiel keeps using the word "likeness" or "appearance" in his description of these heavenly things. The words he used probably don't fully describe what he saw--this was the best he could do. God is much more awesome than we can possibly understand or describe.
!:27-28 A heavenly man who looked like polished bronze glowing in a fire was on the throne, surrounded by the glory of a rainbow. How right to fall on your face before this great God! He deserves absolute homage. Can you imagine how awesome it would be to stand before God's throne?
God, thank You for this reassurance of Who You are. You say that I am blessed for believing without having seen, but the fact that others HAVE seen helps me immensely.
CHAPTER 2 EZEKIEL'S DIVINE COMMISSION
2:1-7 God speaks from His throne, fills Ezekiel with His Spirit and says He is sending Ezekiel out to speak His words to a rebellious people. He admonishes Ezekiel not to be afraid of all the hardships he will encounter and to be faithful to speak whether the people listen or not.
Interesting that each time God gives a command ("stand on your feet," eat this roll," and presumably, "Say to them..."), God not only gives the command, but also causes Ezekiel to obey. (He "made me stand," (v2.) "He made me eat" (3:2).) God will not give us a command He will not enable us to obey. He will "equip you in every good thing for the doing of His will" (Heb. 13:21).
Interesting also that the God of the universe allows Ezekiel to stand on his feet before Him instead of remaining bowed down to the ground. Indeed, God calls us to be partners with Him in His work. What an awesome thing to be able to STAND in God's presence because He desires our company and our handiwork. What a humble God we have to be willing to let us stand in His presence, great as He is!
Notice that Ezekiel is sent both to the Jews AND to the Gentiles! (v.3- to "the sons of Israel, to the nations") The word "nations" is the word "goyim"--used for Gentiles. Even though he was primarily sent to the exhiled Jews (3:4-11), there was yet something for "the nations."
God obviously is frustrated with the Jews, the way He repeatedly calls them "rebellious" and "stiff-necked" (9 times in this little section!) He then says in Chapter 3, that the gentiles would be more apt to listen to what Ezekiel had to say than the Jews! But God's mercy is still great because even in His frustration at the utter rebellion and disrespect the Jews have toward Him, He sends them a prophet to keep trying to speak with them. Even though He knows most folks won't give this prophet the time of day, God still demonstrates His patient love in sending Ezekiel! At least they will know there's a "prophet among them."
Finally, God deals with the fear factor. He discerns that the greatest barrier Ezekiel will have is his fear of the difficult and unappreciated task before him. In v.6, God says, "Do not fear/be afraid" four times in one verse. No matter how terrible the consequences will appear to be, we must not be afraid to obey God. It doesn't matter what people say; what matters is what GOD says.
2:8-3:4: "But you do not be like that rebellious house..." Even among God's people, He sets some apart. Ezekiel is not to be like everybody else. This reminds me of the passage on the life of Balaam in Numbers. After Balaam had gotten his young women to seduce the Israelites and get them worshipping Baal, God sent a plague on the Israelites in His anger. But there was a man who was different; His name was Phineas. He was so jealous for God's glory and holiness that when he saw an Israelite man going to fornicate with the Moabite whores, he chased them into their tent and ran a javelin through them and killed them. God said. "Now finally I see a man who is as zealous for righteousness as I Am! I Love it!" (Loosely paraphrased!) And when God saw someone whose heart matched His own like that, He was satisfied to stop the plague, and He praised and blessed Phineas. God loves people who have an uncommon passion for Him. He longs to see it. People set apart even from the many who are associated with His Name. Lord, let me be one such man, and so let my children be! We don't want to be like the rebellious house of American Christians, we want to be set apart for You in uncommon devotion and obedience.
God gave Ezekiel a book of "weepings, mournings, and woe" which He made Ezekiel eat! In many cases, God gave words to the mind or ears of His prophets, which they were to repeat ver batim to the people, but to Ezekiel, God gave words to EAT! He wanted the message to really become a part of him ("let it fill your bowels"). And even though it was a book filled with woes, it tasted like honey to Ezekiel. God's word is always sweet. It is so important to keep taking in God's word, the Bible. Nourish yourself spiritually every single day of your life with it! And do not be satisfied with someone else's book about the Bible--read the Bible straight for yourself. That is better than a thousand devotional books. God help me to take my own advice here!
Then God commissions Ezekiel to be a prophet in Israel. God says, "Go," but He also says, "Come," because, just as Jesus put it in His commission of Matt 28: 18ff, "Lo, I am with you always." When we go, we are not going out of God's presence, but He is going before us and we must follow Him! We must also be careful to speak only the words of GOD to others. How easy it is to fudge a little when telling a Bible story to children (why are so many children's Bible story books inaccurate to the scriptural account?) How easy to fudge in crediting our thoughts to God by saying, "God said to me..." when God didn't speak to you with a voice out of heaven. How easy it is to fudge when quoting scripture--we don't memorize it diligently, precisely because we don't respect it as we should. Oh God, forgive me of these things. Please help me to be faithful in speaking Your words!
3:5 God ISN'T sending Ezekiel primarily to speak to other nationalities, He's sending Ezekiel primarily to the Jews. The good news is that he doesn't have to learn a foreign language, but the bad news is that the home crowd will be a tough audience. (God acknowledges that He could have sent Zeke to a foreign people--and those people would have much more readily accepted the message.)
3:7 Our hearts and minds should be a mirror of God's own heart and mind--no mirror is large enough to reflect all of the world around it, so we cannot reflect all the infiniteness of God's heart and mind, but we can surely reflect the part we see. And no mirror presents flawless image--there will always be some warping or spotting or haziness, but any mirror can reflect a pretty good image anyway. So it should be with God's people--we should be showing a pretty good image of our God, despite our sins. In so doing, people will associate us with our God and treat us as they treat Him--with joy or indifference or scorn--when we come around. In Ezekiel's case, the Jews will not listen to him because they won't listen to God.
3:8-9 Knowing this in advance, our God who "will equip you in every good thing to do His will," does the necessary equipping of Ezekiel for this difficult mission. God won't send us into a battle we're not equipped to fight! He is a good provider. In Ezekiel's case, what he needs is an unbreakable will that will persistently carry on no matter how discouraging the circumstances. He needs a stubborn head that is as stubborn for godliness as his people are stubborn in their rebellion. God says, "I will make your forehead as an adamant..." Adamant was an early term for emery stone and is used by scientists to mean diamond. It's the hardest known substance and so it is used to file other substances down or for drilling. This analogy is one of hope. The emery board WILL file down hard surfaces; a diamond drill WILL forge through anything. God would give Zeke what he needed to break through to the hard hearts of this people.
3:10-12 How much of God's message was Ezekiel to retain in his heart and ears? All of it. Dear God, please help me to remember all that You teach me. And please give me the perseverance to follow the same command You gave to Ezekiel to speak even if they don't want to hear. What kind of lunatic am I to be wearing a prophet's mantle? Why do I burn with a vision that most of the people around me don't understand? Why do I plug away at what seems futile? Why do I put myself through incredible levels of stress when I could lead a very normal quiet life? Maybe it is the hand of God on me. I may have always wanted to change the world, but now that I see what it takes, I long for a peaceful, normal life. Perhaps that is only a vision of the paradise beyond my grave. Lord, I am weak and discouraged, Please give me Your strength to be faithful to ALL that You've commanded, and to keep speaking your words even when it seems no one cares.
3:12-14 Twice the phrase "the Spirit lifted me up" appears here. I suppose that is a physical lifting up into the air and transporting Ezekiel back to the world of men. Ezekiel still hears behind him, as he is carried off, the awesome sounds of the glory of heaven. God, I feel like I'm in need of Your Spirit lifting me up, but in the direction of heaven--I've had it with the world of men, I've just been immersed in upper-middle-class professionalism for a month...and I am weary. I can imagine Ezekiel would be loathe to leave heaven--he "went bitterly in the heat of my spirit." I can sure sympathize with that. The only thing Zeke mentions making him go back to minister to the people is God propelling him that way--the Spirit lifted him and took him back, and the "hand of Jehovah was strong on me." If God hadn't put Zeke there and steadied him with a strong hand, who knows where Zeke would have been--there'd probably be no book in the Bible by him. I can identify with this, too--I'd love to go live in the woods and keep to myself, but I can't do that because of God. God doesn't want His people to keep to themselves, He has commanded that we go and make disciples, that we be salt and light in a dark world. Out of devotion to my God, I must live in this city and minister to people, His will being done, not mine. Dear God, please lift me up by Your Spirit and place Your strong hand on me. I am too weak and discouraged to carry out Your will.
3:15 After that vision, Ezekiel just kinda sits around numb for a week. He's living with the Exhiles in Tel-Abib--is that Babylon? Ezekiel's vision did not puff him up to self-importance. He "sat where the people were sitting," not thinking himself any more special than the next guy.
3:16-21 At the end of that week, God speaks to Ezekiel again, clarifying what role Ezekiel is to play as a prophet of God to His people. He is a "watchman," someone to hear God's words and "warn" the people. This role requires a great deal of responsibility. If Ezekiel fails in this role, God warns him that there will be blood guilt on his hands. Why does it say that Ezekiel is to warn the people FROM God? That's what is says right there in the Hebrew--the letter Mem is the preposition "from" immediately preceding the word for "me" (God). Perhaps it is to warn them from OFFENDING God, to steer them away from God's wrath.
How is it that Almighty God invests the fate of men's souls in a prophet? What a tremendous responsibility! If God tells Ezekiel to warn a righteous or a wicked man from his wicked way, and Ezekiel does not do it, then the man will go to hell and Ezekiel will be held responsible. Does, "His blood will be required at your hand" mean that Ezekiel will be forced to murder the man, or does it mean that Ezekiel will be accounted as a murderer? Based on the other half of the warning that if he does warn the man--whether or not the man heeds it, "you have delivered your soul," it sounds like the latter interpretation is the best. Reminds me of James 5:20 "Whomever turns a sinner from the error of his way saves his soul from death and covers a multitude of sins." Further into the passage, it is even scarier: "Since you did not warn the man, he will die in his sin..." Heavy stuff!
How is it that God says in v. 20 that He would put a stumbling block in the way of a "righteous" man causing that righteous man to die in his sin, his righteousness not being remembered? Is this speaking of a self-righteous man who appears righteous, but is not genuinely God's child? Verses like this could be used to give credence to Armenianism--sounds like the righteous can fall into sin and loose their salvation! And how does God lay a stumbling block? James 1 says God does not tempt us to sin, yet here, and in other O.T. passages, it appears that God does test His children with temptations to sin in order to prove whose we are.
This "watchman" role is significant. I am awed at the responsibility I have for the souls of people around me. I don't want to be guilty of murder by not warning someone when I should. Yet so many times, people get angry with me when I give a warning or admonition--however gently I try to put it. Please Lord, give me grace to speak warnings whenever You prompt me and to say Your words graciously that the warnings might be accepted into the hearts of those going astray. I'm totally dependent on You, Lord, in this--I can't do it on my own!
3:22-23 Now God sends Ezekiel away from the people in order to deliver the next oracle. Out to the plains. Now, God COULD easily show His glory and speak a message anywhere He wanted; He could have delivered another message right there in Tel-Abib, where He did the last message to Zeke. So why make Zeke change locations? Perhaps there was something to going to a lonely place where interruptions are minimized, and no other ministry responsibilities can call? It's true that God speaks to me in a much deeper way through the Bible when I am alone in the morning before anyone else awakes, than when I am in a Bible study with a group of people.
Interesting how Ezekiel prefaced the oracles he received: #1 (Ch 1:1-3:13) and #3 (3:22-5:17) are both by the river Chebar, but #1 is prefaced, "I saw visions..." and "the word of the Lord," and the second (Ch 3:15-21) is just prefaced, "The word of the lord came to me." It was not accompanied by a vision as the 1st and 3rd. The 3rd is prefaced by "And the hand of Jehovah was on me" and "behold."
When Zeke once again sees the glory of God revealed to him on the plain, just as in the first vision, he falls down again on his face. This is the appropriate response to revere the king of the Universe, yet we do not pay such reverence these days. Lord, forgive our insolence!
3:24 "The Spirit entered me and stood me on my feet and spoke with me." Father, thank You that You have sent Your Spirit to indwell me and that I have a relationship with You, Yet I do not feel stable in my life--"on my feet" as it were, and I need You to speak with me, to guide me as I am confused about what to do in my life next.
3:24-27 Now that Ezekiel has been called, his first prophetic act is commanded of him, and it is not easy! God warns him that it's going to result in harsh treatment: they'll drag him out of his house and tie him with ropes (probably starving him) so that he can't go out and preach. His tongue will stick to the roof of his mouth, and he won't be able to rebuke anybody. It is the nature of rebellious people to forcibly cut off the source of truth rather than respond to it. Prophets have ever been persecuted! But even when Ezekiel is physically unable to prophecy, God will speak to him and open his mouth and he will prophesy anyway. Who would possibly want to be a prophet, then? That's just the point--I don't think anybody really WANTS to be a prophet or is able to prophesy, it is a compulsion put on by the Spirit of God. (It is, however, still subject to evaluation and to self-discipline as Paul points out in I Cor.)
4:1-3 So here are the instructions for the first "gig."
Take a brick and engrave on it the city of Jerusalem. Then build seigeworks around it and pretend an army is destroying the pretend city of Jerusalem. Ezekiel is to represent God, lying down next to the city, yet turning his face away from it, separating himself from it by a pretend wall of iron (a cooking griddle) and beating that city with his fist or perhaps a pretend battering ram.
4:4-8 Ezekiel is to lie on his left side for 390 days, representing the number of years the Northern kingdom of Israel has been in rebellion to God, then he is to lie on his Right side for 40 more days to represent the number of years that the Southern Kingdom (Judah) has been in sin. Actually, it sounds like more than just representing years of sin; the text speaks as though the sin will actually be "laid on" Ezekiel and "borne" by him. I suppose this is a foreshadowing of Jesus, Who would have all our sin laid on Him and Who would bear them away for good! What is the significance of the 390 days/years and the 40 days/years? This chapter of Ezekiel was probably written around 580 BC, exactly 390 years after the Northern kingdom of Israel rebelled and established wicked Jeroboam as King. What about the 40 years for the Southern Kingdom? Wicked Manasseh reigned 50 years alone, not to mention other periods of evil in that kingdom. 40 years before 580 BC would place it toward the end of Josiah's reign, followed by four weak kings. God was particularly incensed at Manasseh's wickedness and did not forget it even under good King Josiah's rule. (II Ki. 23:26 and 24:3) Since Manasseh was only 12 years old when he took the throne, perhaps it took him ten years to get absolutely vile, leaving 40 years which clearly incensed God. Perhaps that is what God is referring to in this, Ezekiels' oracle.
4:7-8 How could Ezekiel lie on one side for 390 days straight? God says He will put "cords" on Ezekiel so that he "cannot" turn over. (God will supernaturally enable His people to do what He has told them to do!) And while Ezekiel is lying there, he is to prophesy over Jerusalem. He is to do this with his arms "bared." Why? Perhaps it is similar to when we roll up our shirt sleeves in order to do manual labor. I'm reminded of Isa. 52, where God says He has bared His arm in the sight of all nations that the ends of the earth may see His salvation. God is rolling up His sleeves, as it were, and getting to work.
4:9-15 And, God makes provision for His servant Ezekiel's food, too, while Zeke lies there for a year and 2 months. Just like God gave specific instructions about how Noah should build the ark, He gives Ezekiel the exact calculations for the food he'll need for the first 390 days: 20 shekels a day (weight) of a mixture of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, made into bread, 1/6 of a hin of water per day, and also cakes of barley baked with dung. I'm not sure if this means the dung was to be mixed in with the barley or if the barley cakes were to be cooked over a fire using dung as fuel. Either way, it was a shocker. Ezekiel couldn't handle doing it with human dung as God had said. Ezekiel, however, is respectful. Instead of saying he won't eat human dung, he says, "Lord, I've never eaten anything unclean before." God is gracious with him and allows him to use cow dung as fuel instead of human dung as an ingredient. Whew! Why would God change His mind like that? I guess it is His nature to be gracious and work at our pace, and perhaps He didn't intend for Ezekiel to really "eat shi_" in the first place, but wanted to drive home the fact that the Jews would indeed do so under God's judgement.
4:16-17 What is the meaning of the directions God has given Ezekiel concerning the food he is to eat? Basically it is a prophesy concerning what will happen in Jerusalem: food will be so scarce that they will ration it, and they will start eating unclean, horrible things. The account of the fall of Jerusalem in 2 Kings 24-25 lists 2 occasions when Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans/Babylonians attacked Jerusalem and took captives before the description of the 3rd attack which included a siege and severe food shortages in Jerusalem. Thus we can assume that Ezekiel was taken in the earlier captivity with King Jehoiachin and that Ezekiel was writing these prophecies before the 3rd and 4th deportations occurred. Jeremiah 39:1-2 says the 3rd siege lasted 1 year and 2 months--that's a long time--and that also "happens" to be the same amount of time Ezekiel was to be lying on his sides by the model city!
Chapter 5: Three Bundles of Hair
5:1-4 God told Ezekiel to get a sharp razor (maybe a sword and a razor? There's no "and" in the Hebrew here) , and shave his head and beard. Ezekiel was to weigh out the cut hair, dividing it into thirds. "When the days of the siege are fulfilled" --I assume this means not the real siege, but after Zeke has laid on his side and laid siege to his model city of Jerusalem--he was to start a fire in the middle of the city and burn 1/3 of the hair he cut off, chop 1/3 of it to bits with a sword, and throw 1/3 into the air for the wind to scatter, and wave a sword after it as it flies away. Ezekiel is instructed to gather a few of the hairs and tie them onto his clothes, then take some of the hair (from off his clothes?) and burn them in the fire.
5:5-17 The interpretation follows: The hair represents the Jews who were attached to God as His special people. God is disassociating Himself from them, cutting them off and judging them for their wickedness.
But some of the Jews, God will keep close to Himself--men like Jeremiah, Baruch, Ebed-Melech, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hananniah, Mischael, Azariah, and others of "the Remnant." And from that remnant will come (v.4) "a fire into all the house of Israel." These are represented by the hair bound to Zeke's clothes and burned. I'm not sure what that phrase means--a fire to the house of Israel--perhaps it stands for the prophets who will exhort all of Israel or perhaps it's the lineage of Jesus who will Himself fulfill the sacrificial system and take God's punishment for all sin on Himself...
This action of God is done with clear purpose--because Israel/Judah has:
That is why God is exercising such severe judgement. Israel had much light. They had God's word written down and they knew Him, so they were more accountable to follow Him than any other nation, yet other nations were doing a better job of obeying God than the Jews were! So God's judgement/punishment will be especially severe. He uses the words "no pity," "fury," "zeal," anger" --God is very upset. He has emotions, and it is time to have a fit of righteous anger and just vent it until He's gotten it off His chest (v.13). How frightening to think of what the God of the universe can do when He's that angry!
Now, God no longer attaches Himself to a particular nation, but considers the church worldwide His special people or "nation." He still exercises judgement on political nations, though. I've been looking lately at The Wall Chart of World History (Dorsett) which lays out 6,000 years of human history, and have been struck by the futility of investing solely in political nations. They rise and fall over and over again. Men have wasted their lives living and dying to create nations that will just be destroyed a few years later. Even every Godly nation has turned to evil, undoing the goodness of the godly men who founded it. This was brought home to me after reading Lawhead's Pendragon Trilogy on the history of King Arthur of Britain. For hundreds of pages, I dreamed the dream of a peaceful Christian empire with Taleasin, Charis, Merlin, Petteas, Bedwyr, and Arthur. I grieved ad I saw good men killed in valiant battle. Then, as soon as the empire is formed, Arthur dies and it suddenly all goes to pot. I can truly feel the Preacher's sense that "all is vanity." I see my own nation going down the tubes, rebelling against the God it was founded under. I see Christians trying to make it back into a Christian nation or scheming how to start a new nation, but is it worth it? All their efforts are doomed to founder at some point in the future. It makes me long all the more for the coming of Jesus and the new heavens and earth, the new city of Jerusalem in heaven where there will be no more evil. Oh how I yearn for that!
I know that it is right and good to apply all of Scripture to all of life and to bring what we can into submission to God, including culture and politics, but I despair in this and see a higher calling to advance the kingdom within the hearts of men primarily and externally only secondarily. God, please make me fruitful in spreading Your everlasting kingdom to the hearts of more men.
What is the point of an oracle like this given to people in Babylon? The prophesy was not given to the Jews in Jerusalem, but to those in Babylon, where Ezekiel was. I can only offer guesses as to why:
Chapter 6: Judgement on Jerusalem
6:1- Interesting that God instructs Ezekiel to give a prophecy to inanimate objects--mountains, hills, valleys! Of course, it was intended for human ears. God knows the psychology of how interesting it is to "listen in" on a sensational exhortation being spoken to someone else!
6:3-7 God promises to bring "a sword" that will destroy the city and all the places of idol worship. The people of Israel have been worshipping idols, and God is going to punish them for it. The coming army which will destroy Jerusalem is raised up by God Himself, and the purpose for the destruction that this army will wreak is so that, "you will know that I am the Lord." It is to return God's people to the truth.
6:8-10 Going back to the three groups of Chapter 5,we've just read of the destruction of the first two groups destroyed in the city and destroyed in escaping the city. The "remnant" group is also mentioned again, those scattered to the wind--scattered among the nations. But their fate is expounded a little further here than it was in Ch. 5. They will repent of their idolatry and remember God. The aim is the same for the remnant, that "they will know that I am the Lord..."
6:11-14 God gets Ezekiel clapping his hands and stomping his feet, but he's not singing a children's song, he's doing it out of anguish, recapping his prophecy of what will happen to the first two groups: The people beseiged in Jerusalem will starve to death, and those outside the city will be slaughtered. It is because of their idolatry that God is angry and will vent His wrath until the idol-worshippers are all killed and the land is laid desolate. God wants to turn their hearts from idols to worship Him as God once again.
CHAPTER 7: The End is Nigh
"The End is Nigh!" cries Ezekiel. Life is not going to go on as usual. God is not going to tolerate the sin in His people anymore. He is going to bring utter disaster on them. When the Chaldean army comes marching up, God wants His people to know that this is HIS doing and that it is PUNISHMENT for their idolatry. It's not going to be a petty war, it's going to result in the END of the nation of Israel and Judah.
7:15ff The people in the city will die of disease and famine, and those outside the city will be slaughtered by swords. This is going to be terrifying! Buying and selling at a time like this (7:13) and even owning gold and silver (v.19) is pointless--it will not do anybody any good. The foreign (v.21) army will plunder it all, even God's "secret place"--the Holy of Holies in the temple.
7:25-27 This is a time of "anguish," "disaster," and "horror." God's people are going to be laid low by this invading army, and God will judge them for their wickedness. But the result will be that "they will know that I am the Lord.
The prophecies in Chapter 5-7 are very specifically fulfilled. The "foreigners" were the Chaldean army. They laid "seige" to the city of Jerusalem and all who did not escape from the city died of "famine"--they ran out of food during the seige and some even were so desparate for food that they ate their own chldren. Many escaped, only to be hewed down by the soldiers waiting outside. Some managed to escape and hide among surrounding nations. The Chaldeans eventually entered the city and plundered it, stealing all the sacred objects from the temple and the Holy of Holies. And the nation of Israel was no more. It had to be re-started from scratch after 70 years of exile. In hindsight, it's amazing to see how specifically this prophecy was fulfilled! God was in perfect control of it all, making it happen exactly accourding to the words He gave His prophet.
8:1 On the 6th year, 6th month, 5th day, Ezekiel is sitting in his house. He has made a few scathing public prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem. (The scene keeps switching between the exhiles presumably in Babylon Ez. 1:1, Ez 11:24 and the Jews in Judah.) This scene has Ezekiel seated with the elders of Judah, presumably in Judah--how did he get there from Chaldea?
8:3 God grabs Zeke by the hair, lifts him into the air, and carries him to have a look at the temple in Jerusalem. (At least I assume it's God, because the description of the fiery man matches the description of the one on the throne in his first vision. 1:27.)
8:5 What is the "idol of jealousy?" Surely any idol makes God jealous. This idol was in the very temple of God, out in the open.
8:7 Then God reveals to Ezekiel an inner room of the temple where the 70 elders of Israel were offering incense, worshipping myriads of carved idols. The abomination they were committing in secret, God had seen it, and was blowing it wide open by revealing it to His prophet. (Does the 70 elders of Israel bear some relation to the elders of Judah with whom Ezekiel was sitting?)
8:12 Those fools think that God does not see them. They are foolish enough to turn to idols when they believe the Lord has disappointed them. (Lord please keep ME from such foolishness!) If they only would have repented, they would have felt God's favour once again, but by turning to other gods, they seal their doom.
8:13 God is incensed; He isn't through showing Ezekiel all the things in His temple that provoke Him, so the involuntary tour continues... Next God shows Ezekiel a group of women in the Northern Gate, weeping for Tammuz. It's a safe bet that Tammuz was a false god. Weeping for an idol. Oh, but are we any different? How much more emotion do we express in the frenzy of a sporting event than in our private and public worship of God? As God leads Ezekiel on this "abomination tour," He is incensed that the women would work themselves up emotionally over something that rivals God in their hearts.
8:16 The last stop on the tour of abominations was to see 25 men in the temple of God worshipping the sun instead!
8:17 God asks, "Is it nothing...?" Do we realize how seriously God takes any form of rebellion to Him? Lord, please give me a sensitive heart to feel the way You do about sin, to understand what a grave thing any sin is, rather than becoming calloused to the sin around me and in me that I see every day. The people of Judah were flagrantly rebelling against God in His own temple, thumbing their noses at Him, as it were.
8:18 You want to make God mad? That's the way to do it, and God says He will punish them severely and without mercy.
Here is a picture of God's wrath and His mercy--a revisitation of Passover. God summons six armed warriors, and goes from the most holy place to the doorway of the temple to give them their instructions. One of the men is to make a mark with a pen on the forehead of every man in Jerusalem who mourns the sins and abominations being done--groaning over it. (This includes women and even children.) Then, beginning with the sanctuary, the warriors are to kill every man, woman, and child who did not receive the mark.
God will punish those who rebel against Him, beginning with the church leaders. But God will not punish those who are broken-hearted over the sins that break God's heart. Even children can mourn for the sin being done in their land. God, it is both scary and affirming to me to know that much of my life has been spent in groaning over the abominations done among my own people--even in the church. It is encouraging to know that I am doing the right thing. But then again, who would ever want to see God going out to slaughter all his countrymen, even if they were in rebellion? God, I fear the retribution that is surely coming to America for its rebellion, but I trust that You will keep me safe.
9:8 At times like this, it is easy for Christian and unbeliever alike to say, "Where is God? He isn't punishing the sin!" The unbeliever will say it's because God does not exist or at least does not see. Both may wonder if God has forsaken their land. It is for this that God will not spare in His judgement: this thought that He has "forsaken the land" or "does not see." To be honest, I've wondered the former a lot to myself. How can what's going on be going on if God is present and active in my land? Lord, please forgive me for thinking this. I trust that You are doing what's right. I thank You for Your grace and mercy which picks sinners out of bondage and does not destroy as we all ought to be destroyed, but calls us sons.
After seeing all these abominations and judgements on the earth, Ezekiel is returned to a view of heaven. He again sees the awesome cherubs that he is so fascinated with, and again sees the throne of God. The description is no less awesome in the re-telling! Some new things surface: The cherubs have a face, yet they are also said to have 4 faces. They also had hands. The wheels are still there, yet they intersect in an indescribable way. (It would be hard to describe an object that had four spatial dimensions after growing up in a 3-dimentional earth--perhaps this is like what Ezekiel was experiencing.) The main new action that happens is that the linen-clad man (perhaps the scribe who was marking the elect to be spared from destruction) is instructed to gather coals in his hands from among the cherubim and sprinkle the coals over the city (presumably Jerusalem.) [Interesting side-note: The words "cherub" and "cherubim" are transliterations from Hebrew. Also the word for "coals" is transliterated "ash"--is this where we get the word?] Perhaps this was a symbol of cleansing the city of its evil. The story doesn't end with the carnage of ch.9, but with the glory of a victorious God filling His temple again in ch.10!
Now God shows Ezekiel 25 men at the opening of the Eastern gate of the temple. Ezekiel notices 2 prominent leaders among them. There are the men who lead the people of the city of Jerusalem with wicked advice. Their advice revolves around the simile of the city as a "pot" and the people as "meat" in the pot. It's hard to tell what it means. Some people interpret this as saying that it's time to rebuild: The invaders are a long way away; we belong in this city, and it will protect us like an iron wall. Others interpret it as a hopeless saying: It's NOT time to build houses because we're all dead meat.
11:4 God tells Ezekiel to counter this with a prophecy that the people--especially the leaders--have been arrogant and ruthless, so God will bring upon them what they fear. More invaders will forcibly take them into exhile. They will not be safe in the city, nor will they die in Jerusalem. They will be chased outside the borders of their country by men with swords as punishment for not walking in God's statutes and judgements and for doing as the pagan nations around them have done. This is severe judgement, yet God still shows mercy and love in that He is doing a judgement that does not kill them and that will show them He is the true God. Thus some of those wicked men might yet repent!
11:13 So Ezekiel prophecies to the remnant of people in Jerusalem (left over from the first Chaldean invasion) that they too will be taken into exhile. During this time, Peletiah dies, and Ezekiel realizes what he is saying: There won't be anybody left in Jerusalem! The nation of Israel will be entirely ended! God reassures Ezekiel in the following verses that He has a bigger plan and that it will be O.K. even if all the Jews are exhiled. They MUST be punished for abandoning God and His ways, but God will yet be a "little sanctuary" (as the Hebrew puts it literally), to them wherever they are. God, I praise You that You will always be my sanctuary wherever I am! You are my refuge and strength.
11:17 God promises that He will reassemble the scattered remnant out of the lands and give the land of Israel back to them. This time the people will do it right: They will destroy the idols and love God and obey Him. This sounds like the salvation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit spoken of in the New Testament. Unity, "one heart," a "new spirit within," "remove the stony heart...and give a heart of flesh" that will delight to obey. "They shall be to me a people, and I will be God to them." God, I thank You for gathering my family to be assembled with Your people from the nations. I thank You for saving me--removing my sinful heart and giving me one of flesh that delights in You. Thank You for setting Your Spirit inside me and for being my God! Help me to be singleheartedly devoted to You and obedient to You!
11:22 Ezekiel sees one last glimpse of God's glory, then is transported by the Spirit back to the exhiles in Chaldea. Interesting that the cherubim seem to be part of the glory of God--they make more impressive Ezekiel's vision of God. Is it possible that we, too, are God's glory? When people see God, they also see His people. Do we contribute to the awesomeness of God--His glory--like the cherubim do in their own way?
Is there some significance to the location to which Ezekiel saw God's glory withdraw from Jerusalem--The mountain East of Jerusalem? Anyway, Ezekiel has news for the exhiles now. They are NOT going to be released from exhile any time soon, because Jerusalem is yet to undergo more judgement. There will be another wave of exhiles coming. Yet God will be a little sanctuary to each one who still calls on His Name, and one day, God will re-gather the exhiles into a nation that serves Him. He will bless them with an intimate relationship with Himself.
12:1-16 God gives Ezekiel yet another vision/drama about the surely-coming second wave against Jerusalem. To illustrate how the people in Jerusalem would be trapped and frantic, he follows God's command to pack for moving, dig a hole in the city wall, and go out through it. This was done in broad daylight so many people would see it and ask what the heck he was doing. Then Ezekiel could relay the meaning of his act: God told him that people would be trying to escape from Jerusalem by digging holes in the wall. He particularly mentions the "prince" of Jerusalem.
It sounds like this time period is what is recorded in II Kings 24 and II Chron. 36, when Zedekiah reigned for 11 years in Jerusalem, rebelling against the Chaldeans, desecrating the temple, ignoring the words of the prophets, and finally escaping through the wall one night, but caught by the Chaldean army. Ezekiel prophesied in v.13 that Zedekiah "would not see." What does this mean? God's accuracy in prophecy is amazing! II Kings 25:7 says that the Chaldeans blinded Zedekiah's eyes before taking him into Babylon!
God still wants this "rebellious house" of Jews to know that He is God. Even this exhile is God's way of drawing them back to Himself. However, Ezekiel prophesied that not all would be exhiled, and indeed, some of the Jews were left behind in Jerusalem as history bears out.
God, You know the future because You control it. You warn Your people of Your judgement. You are patient in our rebellion, but ultimately just. You destroy, and You also draw to Yourself.
12:17-20 Ezekiel is instructed to eat his bread with trembling and drink with anxiety, to show how afraid and horrified the people in Jerusalem will be when Jehovah brings the fullness of His wrath upon them. (Dinner times for me need to be peaceful and relaxed. I'd get indigestion if I had to act out this drama God told Zeke to do!) With this comes the prophecy that the land will be desolated because of the violence of the Jews. (Reminds me of Habakkuk's prophecy in ch.2, prophesying the coming of the Chaldeans because of the "violence done...") Cities shall be laid waste. Why? Again, so that the people may know that Jehovah is God!
12:21-28 God also tells Zeke to counteract a popular belief that the time of judgement is yet far off and that the prophets' words of judgement would never come to pass. Often when God speaks of what He is going to do, it takes faith to believe it. I think of Sarah who didn't believe she would have a son and of Zecheriah who was made voiceless for his unbelief that God would give him a son. Habakkuk's vision required faith "that the one who reads if may run, for the vision is yet for the appointed time... It will surely come to pass." There may be interminable waiting--perhaps 100 years as in Abraham and Noah's case before Isaac and flood, respectively--years in which we may doubt the veracity of God's word. Cling fast to what is true, though. Zeke is to tell the people that the time is coming very soon when the prophecies of judgement will be fulfilled and then there won't be any more false prophets and fortune-tellers in Israel!
Zeke is to assure the people that God will make good on His word without further delay. Notice the phrases indicating God had held back judgement in times past ("not be delayed again" v.25 and "will not be delayed any longer" v.28) There were times when Godly men received God's blessing, and God did not vent His wrath. Other times, godly men beseeched God not to vent His wrath when they deserved punishment, and God, for their sake, relented. Still other times, it may be the patience of God alone that stays His wrath, for as Peter says, "His patience is salvation"--by waiting a little longer, He can draw more souls into His kingdom. But none of these things were in place in Ezekiel's time. It was time to punish thoroughly.
Dear God, please give me the faith to wait patiently on You rather than giving up on You. I think of things where my faith is exercised to its limit: reaching 100% of our fund-raising budget, finding stable housing, getting a co-worker at Caleb Project... I have waited years now without seeing the fulfillment of these things, and have suffered want. I wonder if You will ever fulfill these things. I also think of the judgement on our country that we discern to be eminent, when, to all appearances, everything is going normally with no hint or apprehension on the part of people around us that judgement is just around the corner. Lord, have we heard aright from You? If so, please strengthen our faith to keep trusting in You and help us to know what to do to prepare for their fulfillment.
To see commentary on chapters 13-24, click here