Ezekiel blog 66: The playground slide

Ezekiel chapter 46 is Ezekiel’s way of showing that God is not an oblivious parent and that selfish behavior, or ‘getting away with it’, is not acceptable.

Ever take a child to the neighborhood playground and watch them climb around on jungle-gym/slide combo equipment?  Seems like as often as not that there is someone’s kid hanging around at the top of the slide making it difficult for the other kids to take a turn at the slide. You know the situation, you’ve seen it before.  The kid goes down the slide and then turns around and walks back up the slide to take another turn. This blocks up the whole pattern and builds frustration with the other kids who are patiently waiting to share the slide. It is a selfish, and self centered behavior that is encouraged every time that child’s parents are oblivious to the actions of their own children.

For the most part, children are still growing and learning, but adults should know better.  That is the point that Ezekiel was making in this chapter, and it is a point that is consistent with themes from his other chapters.

At verse 9, Ezekiel makes an astonishing directive. Anyone who enters the temple through the north door, must leave through the south door – including the Prince. He’s supposed to follow the same path as everyone else.  Anyone who enters the temple through the south door, must leave through the north.

It would seem that Ezekiel’s sense of practicality is surfacing here.  Though this may sound trivial, there is common sense here because it prevents the very scenario I describe in the introduction of this chapter regarding the playground slide. There is no possibility that someone with an inflated sense of self-importance could enter the door to the inner sanctuary and post ‘body-guards’ to block the way for everyone else until they come back out.  This arrangement goes a long way towards discouraging a VIP mindset among the self-described elite.

The other message is that sharing is a two way street.  In a very real sense, Ezekiel envisioned a community of holy worshippers who came to this place of offering, sacrifice, and prayer, all sharing it equally. To that end, sharing requires both giving and receiving. Giving way for others to come before the Lord, receiving a place to worship in turn.  Sharing is always a two way street because it empowers healthy respect for others as well as a healthy self-respect. It can start with one person, one side of sharing, but should spread to the other side, the other person, if it is done with the right spirit.  If it is not doing that, then it is not sharing.

The very end of the chapter 46 is an interesting little bit of functional sharing.  It became more clear when I built the 3D model in minecraft.  Verses 22-24 describe the roasting pits, or outdoor cooking areas placed in each corner of the outer court.  This is the area that has all those equal sized rooms all along the avenue.  In today’s terms, these are Bar-B-Q pits stationed equally around the area where the priests are to cook the people’s offerings. No backlogging here, take it and go please.  But in this way, it emphasizes the point that even among the priesthood that serve the temple, there is enough for all and there are not special areas for some and not for others.

Ezekiel has proven true to his themes yet again in this whole passage: fairness, sharing, equality, justice, service, and consideration.

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Ezekiel blog 65: Chapter 45’s fairness failsafe

Ok. I admit it. Ezekiel chapter 45 is definitely boring…unless you happen to be an accountant living in occupied Mesopotamia 586 B.C.

It is exactly this level of minutia that should convince even the most ardent critic that Ezekiel was the master of minutia. This being the case, it is easy to make the argument that Ezekiel’s foremost concern was demonstrating that the visionary ideals could be attained via very practical detail. For example, lets go back to the measurements of the gates and doors.  He measures every single door and reports them to be the same instead of assessing one door and the just telling us they are all the same.  Detail.  Oh, and he tells us exactly what he is using to measure everything and exactly how it is different from normal measuring tools. Detail.  Boring detail, but completely the opposite of some mythological Temple to arrive on its own thousands of years in the future.  Ezekiel was about the here and now, the attainable, and the current hope of his people.

In chapter 45, Ezekiel runs us through an exhausting exposition of a fair weights and measurement system.  This would be the primary tool of exchange for their recovering economy once the captive Israelites were able to return to their homeland.  That being the case, it had to be fair.  No manipulating the system for the benefit of those in power. No cheating some people. No favoring some people. No privileged and less-privileged people.  This is what Ezekiel is hammering out when he states God’s command in verse 10, “…Stop dispossessing my people.” They are to use accurate scales, weights, baths (for measuring liquids), etc.

This chapter is meant to be a failsafe catchall to prevent against a very real human weakness: the corruptibility of power. Power corrupts unless you have the ability to have outside transparency.  And so we have chapter 45.

 

Ezekiel blog 64: Prose of fidelity

In Ezekiel chapter 44, Ezekiel is told to “…look carefully, listen closely, and give attention….”  where the entrances of the Temple are specifically mentioned.  It’s an odd place to start this chapter, but touches on a theme of this whole second section of Ezekiel’s vision.  That theme is fairness, equality, and justice.  Notice the very first 3 verses speak about the rule which seals the East gate shut at all times, and then notes the one exception in the case of the Prince.  This exception is called out several times in the surrounding chapters.  There are specific rules about this exception meaning that the Prince is not above the law either, which is justice.

In verse 4, Ezekiel shares with us that he finally gets to see the Temple filled with the Glory of the Lord and he falls to the ground. You can only imagine how overcoming it is for Ezekiel to finally see the completion of his vision, to see that place become truly holy.  It is a pure place, an undefiled place of prayer, offering and sacrifice.  And it is in this that we gain clues as to what the next several verses are about.

Ezekiel is called to pay attention to the entrance to the Temple and all of the exits. Recall that in earlier chapters we were given exact measurements and specifications for these doors and that Ezekiel was taken to each gate to verify that each gate was the same.

Why?  What does that say?

As mentioned earlier, it is a theme of fairness. There is no special door. There is no gate that is higher and bigger than another, which means that there isn’t a gate for the privileged and another gate for the not-so-privileged.  There is equal access to the priests and alter of offering.  The exception is the Prince who is given permission to pray from the East gate. But, that being said, the Prince is to enter by either the North gate or South Gate – just like every one else. Additionally, the Prince has specific offerings which are required. In other words, Royalty is not allowed to come in with a boat load of offerings, large and conspicuous, and thereby shame the poor pilgrims bringing their humble offerings as they can afford.

In Ezekiel’s view, fairness and justice are essential elements of purity and holiness.  Now, in verse 7 and 8 we get a direct, no exceptions, diagnosis of what went wrong with the first temple.  “.. In addition to all your other detestable practices, you brought foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh into my sanctuary, desecrating my temple while you offered me food, fat and blood, and you broke my covenant. Instead of carrying out your duty in regard to my holy things, you put others in charge of my sanctuary.” 

Stop. Hold it right there. This is one of the most misinterpreted sentiments expressed in prophetic writing. This is not, not, an endorsement of racial purity as a measurement of religious faithfulness. Yet human nature sadly seems to carry people to this conclusion over and over again.  In Ezekiel’s case, he defines foreigners as people who are uncirmcumcised in heart and flesh.  Notice that Ezekiel places ‘heart’ above flesh.

He also defines the act of desecration for us with the line, “…you put others in charge of my sanctuary.”  That’s right, as discussed in earlier chapters, the leadership of the Temple, outsourced the very ministry of the temple. Contracted ministry, rather than the purity of service from the heart. When they did this, they placed the practice of worship on a lower priority than the practice of management.  This opened the door to the deals and contracts that allowed other religions (idol worship) to seep into the hallways and chambers of the original temple. That practice of sidelining sacred duty of enabling offering, sacrifice and prayer of the people is the desecration that Ezekiel is describing.

So this has nothing to do with purity of race – not at all.  It is a pity that the Israelites returning to the demolished city of Jerusalem after 70 years fell back to the base human nature and excluded other peoples  from participating in the reconstruction of the temple as described in Ezra chapter 4.  I write a criticism of human weakness, a decision made by those specific individuals to say, “No, this is only for us.”  Sadly, this mantra is oft repeated in our contemporary society – exclusion comes too easy to us.

Ezekiel foresaw this human weakness and gave specific instruction in Verse 9. This puts to rest any notion that Ezekiel was advocating anything other than faith and purity of heart – not racial or national exclusion.  He reiterates that the laws of faithfulness apply equally to everyone,….including “…the foreigners who live among the Israelites.”  Ezekiel’s vision of a place as holy as the new temple would be a tremendous draw for others seeking their faith.

The temple depicted in this series of Ezekiel’s vision is not to be construed as some kind of end-of-days, millennium temple. That would make the realization of this vision a benefit to people thousands of years in the future, providing little incentive for hope or salve for the immediate needs of his people .  For Ezekiel, this was a vision of a right now Temple – of an achievable dream for his people. It was something to give them hope during their captivity.  Ezekiel’s temple was a place of social justice, a hope for his people enduring an unjust occupation and captivity.

Getting back on track, the remainder of the chapter is used to define the roles and activity of the newly purged priesthood structure. Much of this content reveals a return to simplicity among those responsibilities compared to what was previously described in the Pentateuch.  However, the last major point of this chapter is the reinforcement of the idea that the Levitical priesthood will have no property ownership rights. They are to own nothing of themselves, but live entirely off the offerings of the population.

How does that provide a benefit? Why is that important?  It means that there can be no hierarchy of status based on wealth.  You can’t buy your way into good graces of service, you can’t grant your way into absolution by gifting property. You can’t establish landmarks of ownership and thereby create a sense of importance which could translate into a last legacy.  It prevents the problem of someone having an overriding opinion or viewpoint simply because they are rich and able to “contribute to the cause” more so than someone else.

Ezekiel’s visionary policy prevents another  problem of ministers flashing their accumulated wealth as some kind of validation that they are living correctly, and everyone else is somehow weak in the faith. Ezekiel addressed that decidedly false doctrine back in Ezekiel chapter 11, as discussed in my blog entry: https://inopencountry.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/ezekiel-blog-thats-entitlement-for-ya/

As stated at the beginning, this chapter draws awareness to Ezekiel’s overall insistence on fairness, humanity, humility, social justice and equality.

 

Ezekiel blog: The headline that never was

Ezekiel chapter 43 describes the return of the Lord’s glory to the site of the newly rebuilt temple.   In computer programming languages, the key word “IF” is very powerful as it represents a conditional set of actions based on a choice or decision point. Embedded in this chapter, in many translations is the word “IF”. Some translations of this chapter of Ezekiel use the conditional statement “When” – somewhat more optimistic, but still an implied decision point. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Firstly, Ezekiel has brought us to his crowning (almost) ending of his visionary vista of reward to the faithful. In his vision, the Temple has been rebuild according to the new specifications, all preparations have been made by a faithful people, and the glory of the Lord is seen returning through the East facing gate. Once God has taken up residence, the East gate is to be closed and no one is to ever traverse that gate again – though the prince may pray from that gate….but no one else.

Now, it is important to read what Ezekiel states in verse7, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places.”     It is a very specific indication.  This place, this temple, rebuilt exactly as specified, and sanctified exactly as specified, manned by the priesthood exactly as specified is the place of God’s throne and where His feet will walk.   The corollary is that if it is not exactly this place, then it will not be the place of God’s throne.

Why is that important?

It is significant because this sets up an ideal set of circumstances which will meet God’s indication of faithfulness with regard to the people of Jerusalem now in captivity. There is also that pesky “IF” clause in verse 11 eg. “…If they are ashamed of all they have done,…” they will adhere to these specifications as detailed in Ezekiel’s vision.  It is a test of faith to restore the centerplace of faith according to these instructions.  This was the plan, this was the vision, this was the end goal.

In reality, what actually happened was very different. Recorded in Ezra chapter 3 we find that the returning people of Israel took a different course of action. This is described in verse 2: “….built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.”  In other words, they eschewed the instructions of Ezekiel and went back to doing things according to the way Moses described.  There is also indication in the same chapter of Ezra that the people began reconstruction after the manner of David, again not Ezekiel.

Finally, Ezekiel specified a line of priesthood from the family of Zadok. In actuality, the people resumed usage of the entire Levitical priesthood as described by Moses. And they built the alter and began offering burnt offerings according to the Mosaic tradition. Ezekiel had detailed a series of offerings specifically designed to dedicate the alter, and then had envisioned a more streamlined set of offerings for the people.  None of that happened.

So, what do we conclude from this?

Well, an entire generation had been raised in the time between Ezekiel’s vision and the time the people were allowed to return to their homeland. That means the interim generation had to have been taught about their religious traditions. Given that Ezekiel was performing his ministry for the first 25 years of their exile, and he detailed his visions and explained them at length to the religious leaders remaining with the people. Since the people chose to go with the traditions of Moses rather than the teachings of Ezekiel, we can only surmise that there must have been a power struggle among the religious leaders of Israel while in captivity, and that the traditional hold-outs won out over the new visions of Ezekiel.

However, as determined earlier in this thesis, Ezekiel was no ordinary priesthood member, nor was he to be considered an ordinary prophet. He was a prophet beyond reproach because of his education and standing as a Priest of the Temple, something no other prophet can claim.    His vision was very specific and detailed as would be expected by one so educated.

But the conclusion is inescapable.  Since the people chose to rebuild the temple after the manner of Moses and David, and not after the new vision of Ezekiel, then the rebuilt temple did not meet the requirements of faith which God had stipulated with his “IF” statement. As such, the second temple or rebuilt temple could not have been the place as described in chapter 43 verse 7 where God says, “…this is the place of my Throne…”

And if that incarnation of the temple was not the holy and sacred ground where God walked, then certainly the third incarnation, Herod’s Temple, could not have been either. The fact that the temple was destroyed again and that Herod’s Temple was also destroyed gives makes this claim credible.  Additionally, at the end of Ezra chapter 3, it says the old men wept when the foundation of the rebuilt temple was laid.  The old men may have remembered the teachings of Ezekiel (speculating only on this), while the younger folks shouted for Joy.

Not discounting religious tradition, or mocking the religious significance of a place as described by a people or community, but ask yourself this:  If that temple site is not the sacred ground where God walks, nor the seat of His throne, then isn’t the remaining temple site we see today just another place on the planet, just another piece of rock?  In other words, why was there so much killing associated with that place, and such a desire for possession? Why were the crusades launched to capture the “holy city” when in reality, it was just a regular city with a lot of history? Is it worth the struggle for possession today, with each of the major religions all claiming that it is their sacred site?  Really?  God doesn’t seem to think so.

Food for thought.