Monday, January 31, 2011

Ezekiel 4

The siege wall (vs. 1-3)—Jerusalem was going to come under siege for a protracted period of time; four symbolic acts, from 4:1-5:17, represent the fall of the city. This seems to indicate that this portion of Ezekiel’s prophecy took place before 586 B.C. when the Babylonians finally sacked the city and destroyed Solomon’s temple. The first of these analogies is found in these three verses. The prophet is commanded to build a clay brick representation of Jerusalem and then “lay siege against it" (v. 2). “This will be a sign to the house of Israel” (v. 3).

Lying on his left side (vs. 4-8)—Ezekiel is then ordered to lie upon his left side, representing the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The “lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it” (v. 4) suggests that Jehovah, in some form, would put Israel’s sin on the prophet. This is indicated as well in verse 6, where Ezekiel lies on his right side (Judah), and “you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days” (v. 6). The 390 days (v. 5) and 40 days (v. 6), which represent “a day for each year” are inexplicable in exact terms. No exact historical dates will fit these years as to when Israel and Judah’s punishment began. Commentators are divided on the meaning; one suggested that the 390 and 40 indicated the intensity of the punishment, and I like that idea. Another commentator adds the years together, which produces 430 years, the time of their Egyptian history from Abraham to Moses (Exodus 12:40). The text doesn’t explain the exact meaning, so all we can do is speculate. Ezekiel would continue to prophecy against Jerusalem (v. 8) and the Lord would force him to continue this analogy “till you have ended the days of your siege” (v. 8).

Ezekiel’s bread (vs. 9-17)—If you are interested in knowing what Ezekiel ate here, go to your local grocery store and buy some “Ezekiel’s Bread,” which I personally think tastes horrible, but others like it. It’s very healthy, I’ll say that, and he was commanded by the Lord to eat it for 390 days. The whole thing is obviously has a huge degree of symbolism and latitude, for Ezekiel could hardly have gathered all these needed materials if he was lying on his side the whole time. So apparently, for a portion of each day, in the sight of the people, he reclined on his side. They would naturally ask what he was doing, and he would explain. The “twenty shekels a day” (v. 10) that he was allowed to eat amounts to about eight ounces; the “one-sixth of a hin” of water that was his daily ration (v. 11) amounts to about a quart, or maybe just two-thirds of a quart; exactly how much a “hin” was is not totally clear. The whole thing is designed to signify the starvation that Jerusalem would suffer during the period (vs. 4-8) of the siege (vs. 1-3). The Lord first commanded Ezekiel to bake the bread using human waste (v. 12)—foreign nations and their products were considered unclean—but the prophet was also a priest and observed strict dietary laws, though I’m not aware of any place in the Old Testament that forbids using human dung for fuel; it was common in the Middle East because of the scarcity of wood. Even though his objection is not exactly to the point (v. 14), the thought of using human waste was abominable to Ezekiel, so the Lord allowed him to substitute cow dung instead (v. 15). All of this is designed to denote the dire straits Jerusalem would face, so dire that they would resort to any measure to save their lives (vs. 16-17).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ezekiel 3

The sweet tasting word (vs. 1-3)--Chapter 3 continues the introduction to the book and further explains the prophet's mission and responsibilities. God instructs Ezekiel to eat the "scroll of a book" that was introduced at the end of chapter 2 (3:1). This scroll almost surely is the word of God; the taste was "like honey in sweetness" (v. 3). This accords with Psalm 19:10, which tells us that God's word is "sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb," and Psalm 119:103, where David announces "How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth." This passage in Ezekiel reminds us as well that the apostle John, in the book of Revelation, was commanded to eat a "little book," and found its taste "as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter" (Rev. 10:9-10). The word of the Lord is a wondrous thing, but the consequences of its application can be bitter and sad indeed. So many are lost because they fail to heed the gospel truth. Interestingly, Ezekiel was "caused" (forced) to eat the scroll (v. 2). Reluctance on the part of God's preachers is not unheard of, especially when they know that their preaching will not be kindly received. Yet, Ezekiel was faithful in proclaiming what Jehovah wanted preached.

Ezekiel's mission restated (vs. 4-11)--The Lord once again tells Ezekiel to go preach; perhaps the mission is reiterated because of the reluctance that appears to be evident in verse 2. The people will understand Ezekiel (vs. 5-6), but they are so obstinate that, where a foreign peoples would have heeded and obeyed, Israel will not (vs. 6-7). Of course, the children of Israel are already in Babylonian captivity when Ezekiel preaches to them, so the idea here is they will not accept the prophet's explanation for their current condition. Jehovah promised Ezekiel that He would be with him, giving him strength, yea, a stubbornness greater than that of the people he would speak to: "Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead" (v. 9). Thus, the prophet was not to be afraid of them (v. 9), which implies he might indeed have something TO be afraid of. The word should be received into the heart--it must be accepted as true by the preacher (v. 10)--and it must be proclaimed "whether they hear, or whether they refuse" (v. 11), i. e., "in season and out of season" (II Tim. 4:2).

The glory of the Lord (vs. 12-15)--To further encourage the prophet, the Spirit again shows him the living creatures and the wheels to which he was introduced in chapter 1. A "great thunderous voice" announced, "'Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place'" (v. 12). This is almost certainly the meaning of the strange happenings recorded in the first chapter. The whole episode was a "bitterness" to Ezekiel, but "the hand of the Lord was strong upon me" (v. 14). When he came out of this trance, vision--whatever one chooses to call it--he found himself in Babylon by the River Chebar, where he had begun the adventure (v. 15; cf. 1:1). He was so overwhelmed that he "remained there astonished among them seven days" (v 15). What he had experienced was truly a unique experience; it isn't surprising that it took him awhile to recover from it.

The watchman's responsibilities (vs. 16-21)--The Lord was patient with Ezekiel and waited until the prophet was ready for more instruction (v. 16). The responsibility is awesome. Ezekiel becomes a "watchman" to the house of Israel (v. 17). A watchman warns of coming danger. If Ezekiel does not warn the wicked and they do not turn from their wickedness, then they will suffer the consequences, but "his blood I will require at your hand" (v. 18). Yet, if the prophet is faithful to his call, then the Lord will not hold him accountable if the rebellious refuses to obey (v. 19). The same with a righteous man (vs. 20-21). The requirement of the prophet was to preach; the end results could not accrue to him. Paul spoke similar words in Acts 20:26-27: "Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God." Preaching is not for the faint of heart, and every preacher with a conscience realizes that he could have done more, preached to more people.

Ezekiel sent to the plain (vs. 22-27)--One more message came to Ezekiel before the Lord gives him things to do/say before the people. Jehovah sent him "into the plain" (v. 22) where the prophet witnessed "the glory of the the glory which I saw by the River Chebar" (v. 23). Ezekiel's task was a difficult one, and there are some indications in the book that he was a young man as he started his work. So God continues to encourage and inspire him with awesome visions that will let Ezekiel know he is not alone. The Lord warns Ezekiel that the people would try to shut him up (v. 25), and for a time, as Jehovah willed, Ezekiel would not be able to speak (v. 26). But then, Jehovah would "open [his] mouth" and he would speak. The preacher is at God's disposal. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Preachers and teachers today do not have the miraculous inspiration that Ezekiel had, so we have to rely on our own wisdom--and pray for the strength and grace of the Lord to speak boldly and to be forgiven when we fall short.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ezekiel 2

Ezekiel's mission (vs. 1-10)--The awesome images of chapter one certainly got the prophet's attention and now he is ready to listen to God (v. 1). The Spirit aided him (v. 2); no doubt Ezekiel was in some state of trepidation over what he had seen, and now that Jehovah was speaking to him. The prophet's main mission is delivered to him in verse 3: "Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day" (v. 3). As noted in the introduction, Ezekiel started his work in approximately 595 B. C., which was about nine years before the final destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. So he was indeed living in the midst of a "rebellious nation." They were "impudent and stubborn children," and his message, of course, was to be "Thus says the Lord God" (v. 4). Thus, the people would know that a true prophet was among them (v. 5).

Why Ezekiel is referred to as the "Son of Man" is a matter of speculation. The title is given to him some 90 times in the book. One writer has as good a suggestion as any: "It expresses the contrast between what Ezekiel is in himself and what God will make out of him, and to make his mission appear to him not as his own, but as the work of God, and thus to lift him up, whenever the flesh threatens to faint and fail." (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "Son of Man") The phrase is used 43 times in the New Testament to describe Jesus, denoting His human nature, while "Son of God" describes His divine essence. He was both God and man. Ezekiel obviously is never referred to as "Son of God."

Jehovah in verse 6 encourages Ezekiel to courage, even though "briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions." Speak God's word, "whether they hear or whether they refuse" (v. 7). Don't fall into the trap of becoming like them (v. 8). It is easy for a preacher to indeed become discouraged when preaching to an apathetic, listless bunch of people, and many have let the world influence them rather than visa-versa. So God's warning here to Ezekiel is very practical. The Lord then gave the prophet a "scroll of a book" (v. 9) and he was told to eat it (v. 8). The scroll was full of the word of God ("there was writing on the inside and on the outside"), but it wasn't a pleasant message--"written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe" (v. 10). That would largely be Ezekiel's message to the people, because of their rebellion against God. Ezekiel will eat the book in chapter 3.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ezekiel 1

Date and location of Ezekiel's prophecy (vs. 1-3)--As the introduction to this book notes, Ezekiel prophesied during the early years of the Babylonian captivity, which began about 605 and lasted till 536 B. C. Most commentators believe Ezekiel was taken during the second deportation of the Jews (there were three), which happened about 597. Verse 1 speaks of the "thirtieth year," but it doesn't specify the thirtieth year of what. Perhaps Ezekiel was 30 years old, but the best guess on this is that, since the Babylonian Empire began in 625 B.C., and the prophet specifies the beginning of his work as "the fifth year of King Johiachin's captivity" (595 B.C., v. 2), the thirtieth year is dated from the beginning of Babylon's Near Eastern dominance. It's not a crucial point. Ezekiel was a priest, the son of a man named Buzi. "Chaldeans" (v. 3) was simply another name for Babylonians, being a major tribe of those peoples. Remember, Abraham's home was "Ur of the Chaldees."

Ezekiel's vision (vs. 4-28)--All sorts of fanciful conjectures have been made regarding this awesome sight which Ezekiel witnessed. The text is not altogether clear what it means, though there are a couple of verses (mentioned in a moment) which give some clue. Regardless, Ezekiel sees three main items. In verses 4-14, Ezekiel is shown "four living creatures" coming out of a whirlwind (vs. 4-5). I'm not going to bother to describe the creatures; that would be superfluous. They were somewhat fearsome and remind us of the four creatures around the throne of God in Revelation 4, though their makeup was different in many respects. In verses 15-21, Ezekiel saw da wheel...actually four wheels, one beside each creature (v. 15). Again, there is no specific explanation for the meaning of the wheels. The final phenomenon--and surely the most important--Ezekiel witnessed was a throne above the "likeness of the firmament" (v. 22), apparently suspended in mid-air. It was actually "the likeness of a throne" (v. 26), and "on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it" (v. 26). The brilliance of this "man"--surely God--is described in verse 27 (compare Revelation 1:12-16). The first two items of the vision (creatures and wheels) seem to have pointed to the last of these manifestations. Part of verse 28 reads, "This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD."

That last statement is almost surely the explanation of this weird revelation to Ezekiel. The event is referenced only twice more in the book (unless I've overlooked one somewhere). The next reference is found in 3:12-13: "Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a great thunderous voice: 'Blessed is the glory of the LORD from His place!' I also heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels beside them, and a great thunderous noise." The other reference is 3:23: "So I arose and went out into the plain, and behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, like the glory which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face." The common theme in all three is the "glory of the Lord." This vision in chapter 1 was simply to impress Ezekiel with the magnificence, might, and glory of Jehovah in order to prepare the prophet for his difficult mission. Chapter 1 ends, "So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking." Ezekiel is more than ready to listen to, and heed, that voice.

Introduction to Ezekiel

The text of the book gives us quite a bit of information about this man. His father's name was Buzi, and, being a priest, he was from the tribe of Levi. He was taken captive into Babylon approximately 597 B.C. in the second deportation of Jews from their homeland into Babylonian captivity. He settled near a river called Chebar in Babylon. He began prophesying in 595 in the fifth year of Jehoiachin's ill-fated reign, and prophesied nearly 25 years. We know from an incidental allusion in the book that he was married (though his wife died during the exile, Ezek. 24:18), and he seems to have been highly respected by the elders of the captives, as they consult him frequently throughout the book. Custom says he was buried along the Euphrates River near modern Baghdad.

His book was written entirely during the Babylonian captivity period. He was a contemporary of Daniel. The book has two great sections, chapters 1-24 which appear to have been written before Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem in 586 and contain a lot of rebuke and reproof, and chapters 25-48 which are more conciliatory. There is also a section of prophecies against foreign nations (chapters 25-32). Interestingly, there are no quotes from Ezekiel in the New Testament, but there are obvious parallels to some of his work in the book of Revelation. Of the four "major" prophets, Ezekiel's work seems to be the least known. That doesn't make it any less important or powerful in its message.