Ezekiel blog 6: Now to get things going…

This blog entry will be a little longer than the others because we are dealing with a transition from Ezekiel encountering whole new concepts about God at a personal level into his new role of watchman for Israel and to the immediate tasks at hand. All of this relates to the end of Chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 of the book of Ezekiel.

We start with our guy face down on the plain or open desert country – literally face down.  It must have been overwhelming to Ezekiel to come face to face with the Glory of God and to be taught whole new concepts in a religion Ezekiel thought he knew pretty well to begin with.

We are told that the Spirit came in, the Spirit raised him up, and then the Spirit spoke to him.  That is an interesting progression of perception and so vastly different from the get well quick and everything will be fixed for you right now mentality of some subsections of modern Christian programming.  I’m speaking about the type of belief subset where a person experiences an inconvenience, makes a bland statement about general belief or maybe says a quick formula prayer, cleverly seizes an opportunity to overcome the inconvenience and then states that “God must be blessing me today”.

That is worlds different than Ezekiel being pushed to the end of his strength and endurance to where his brain overloads and he collapses.  And then, right there, at that point, the Spirit comes in.  Why?   Because there is room for the Spirit of God now. Ezekiel is empty and has become a possible sacred vessel for the Holy Spirit.  Vessel, not a possessed mannequin,…a vessel – big difference.

Now Ezekiel has seen his visions, he has heard the Word of righteousness, judgment, and warning. He has so much to tell, Ezekiel must have been bursting at the seams to get started.  Except for one thing…

God’s first task to Ezekiel is to go lock himself in his house and not say a word.  Not only that, he will be bound with ropes, probably by his own people so that he will not be able to openly share what he has seen.  Those in religious authority over the community would have good reason to fear a new voice, for there is much power to be held when people live in fear and are looking for some kind of direction.

For that matter, this isn’t exactly news.  Ask any new minister wanting to try a fresh approach and you will hear the same thing. There are always walls of resistance immediately built.  Colleagues will begin to say things like, “You can’t say that -it’s not the way we do things around here”, “I know you want to change things, but maybe you should listen to wiser heads”, or “This is not the mainstream message we’ve always worked with.” etc.  You know the drill.   Jesus faced this, Moses, faced this, John the Baptist faced this.  It’s nothing new and God was telling Ezekiel that the same would happen to him.

But the timing was all in God’s favor anyway.  Let them bind Ezekiel to prevent him from rocking the boat. And if they wanted to preview Ezekiel’s message first – and in private – God would bind up Ezekiel’s mouth.  In other words, God was going to speak, when He was good and ready to,  and not until all his current judgments had been completed on Israel’s sorry state.

God had a message for the people, a message of change in thinking.  This message had begun with Jeremiah.  It was a message that would challenge the status quo mentality of the established clergy who was wholly focused on the supposed glory days of the Temple.

I think that Ezekiel must have been reflecting on the story of Moses’ inability to talk and being bound and brought before Pharoah.  How absurd that the role of Egypt was being fulfilled by his own people.  This must have crystallized the belief of Ezekiel that God was right.

And that brings us to the first sign.  Now most of the prophets that we read about in the Old Testament had a format of writing down their visions, sometimes in prose, and sometimes in poetry/song. In any event, there was the presentation of the message, the pronouncement in the courts of the rulers of Israel, etc.

Ezekiel – not so much.   He is told to get a clay tablet and draw a picture of Israel on it so that he can symbolically lay siege to the city and portray the actuality of Israel’s total isolation – of being completely cut off.  Now, how do you draw a picture of a city on a 6×9 clay tablet so that anyone can tell what it is?   If you think about tourist maps, the kind you get in most costal towns, city areas are always represted by some kind of landmark.  San Francisco is always  represented by the Golden Gate Bridge and that Pyramid sky scraper. I imagine that Ezekiel represented Jerusalem by its pinnacle landmark, the Temple – the very place that has God so upset – the place that epitomizes the very corruption of faith which caused this whole mess in the first place.

In a way, it kind of reminds me of some other forms of representational imagery used in religious circumstances.  For instance, Navajo tribal elders will spend days creating a beautiful sandpainting which contains images that lead tribal members to meditate on specific elements of their faith.  Thoses images are the focus until the end of the ceremony at which time, the painting is destroyed and the sands cast to the wind.

Same thing going on here with Ezekiel.  On this image of Jerusalem will he focus his attention for over one year of time.  I imagine it was quite the conversation piece for anyone who stopped by to visit.  And if you think about it, the warning for the coming events did last for well over a year. It’s not as if God was acting like some sleeping giant who suddenly came to to life in anger and inexplicably destroyed Jerusalem.  This had been coming on for a good long time and Jerusalem had been warned many times over by a God who is very patient.

And this transition for Ezekiel from observer of vision, to focal point of the attention of Israel must have been a heavy burden for Ezekiel.  It is plain to see at this point, that the stage had been set and the very first element of Ezekiel’s message will carry us through the rest of the connected actions of warning and judgment.  It is not obscure as in so many other areas of prophetic writing. This is as clear as a whiteboard drawing in one of today’s business briefing rooms. God is pointing to this simple drawing of a city on a hill and saying “This, this right here. This is the problem. It has been the problem and it’s still the problem.”

 

 

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog 5: Finally some blessed rest

My continuing Ezekiel blog – thanks for dropping in.

There is an interesting note in 2nd Chronicles that refers indirectly to Ezekiel – or at least the experiences of the people at the end of the rule of Jerusalem.  In short, the verses talk about the end of the destruction of Jerusalem and the invasion of the land. It talks of the people being carried away from their homeland and that all the houses of worship had been destroyed. And then, at the very end of the narrative, the verse says something to the effect that the land finally observed the sabbath and could rest.

So often we get caught up in the human story, and forget that God is indeed concerned with all his creation, including the very land,  the very earth, and the sabbath.  It seems that the only way God could give the place an insured rest was to usher all of Israel off to another land.

So it begs the question, “Rest from what??”   Good question.  It seems that God was being an advocate for the land walked upon by the prophets, a land who was a victim of the capricious religious patronage of its population. So from the Land’s point of view, here are a bunch of people walking around demanding food, water, resources, etc. and then crafting Idols and adopting every stray religious cult that happened to swing through the neighborhood.  What happened to the simplicity of faith in a God who walked every step of the way with them in the wilderness?

So the land achieves silence, rest from this behavior and returns to an undisturbed state for 70 years.  Remember that throughout this book, there is representation of time by days. 70 years of rest, 7 days of silence from Ezekiel to whom the exiled people turned. And God uses the adjective “rebellious” 7 times when describing the state of Israel during Ezekiel’s calling.

God tells Ezekiel that he will bind up Ezekiel’s tongue, and that he shall not speak until God is ready. And God will be ready when the time of rest, the sabbath has been observed.  God has much to say to the people of Israel, but not until Jerusalem has been cleared of the presence of His fallen people, of Idol worship, of plain old fashioned lip service to the law.  And we see here that God is plainly willing to wait, even in the face of the impatience of the people of Israel in captivity.

That of course, is my read into these things. But I find that the message resonates with me  on many levels.  This idea of rest – not just because of exhaustion, but to take time to consider the works of God.  And this idea of Sabbath being applied to the land, to Mother Earth. She is a sacred gift and participant in the whole of creation.   The patience of God when dealing with humans. I know it seems that this book is about judgement and condemnation, but there is also a very strong thread of patience, that long has God allowed things to continue in error. Long has God observed the pain of his creation. And, though destruction is at hand, long will be the patience of God with His people in exile, those that complied with His judgment and accepted the new condition as Jeremiah advised.  God will be patient with Ezekiel as he struggles to wrap his mind around some of these totally new concepts about spirituality and the definition of sacred spaces. And God asks the people to be patient – though He knows that will fall on deaf ears.

Perhaps it’s time to observe the works of the Lord, and have the patience to watch carefully as God is at work in his creation.

Ezekiel Blog 4: on overload here

Just more blogging from me on Ezekiel.

There is a small section at the very end of Ezekiel Chapter 3 that doesn’t seem to attract much notice.  In all the commentaries I’ve read, there is only brief mention of Ezekiel’s reaction to the first vision.  The one commentary I’m focusing on by  Arno C Gaebelein looks at the seven days of silence by Ezekiel to show Ezekiel’s horror, remorse, guilt over the impending doom of the Lord’s coming judgments.  Very dark.

I see it differently. Yes the text in verse 14 says that Ezekiel went away in bitterness and anger.  Very strong emotions indeed.  For my part, that is something that I can relate to, and it’s what makes Ezekiel stay human in our eyes.  I digress though,…

Stepping back,  we see Ezekiel staggering from the impact of the vision as a whole. Remember – it was sweet as honey on his tongue as Ezekiel read (ate) the scroll – the message from God.  It’s an interesting metaphor because whenever you eat something then you have to take time to digest.  Ezekiel needs to process – and don’t we all.  He says that the Spirit lifted him up.  So here we begin to see identification of that Spirit of God as being an active agent in the same way that Jesus promised the same Spirit to his disciples. That Spirit lifted him up.

Ezekiel has enough where-with-all to still make note of some interesting things to him.  All of this first vision took place in the presence of that incredible chariot which carried the Lord’s presence here into this strange desert place – far indeed from the temple in Jerusalem.  And to Ezekiel’s astonishment, he heard a voice that said,” May the glory of the Lord be praised in his dwelling place.”   Imagine Ezekiels confusion – but Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple ruined.  What holy place??!!!

This action by God is driving home the concept that the Holy place of God is not some specific section of rock in a certain place in Judea.  In this case, the Holy place was the humbled and broken heart of Ezekiel willing to accept the pure Word of God in, take it in, and have faith enough to face the implications of an encounter with God’s Spirit.  That is the Holy Place, that is the Kingdom about which Jesus said, “…the Kingdom is at hand.”  It is a place of faith and prayer.

Ezekiel says again that the Spirit lifted him up.  He returns to his people, his fallen and defeated people – those of his tribes who have lost their faith and believe that the Lord only dwells in the ruined temple in Jerusalem and will not hear them in this new place.  He is angry and he is bitter because he sees the vast distance between the people and God, not because of geography, but because of the condition of their heart and their dry arid faith.

Ezekiel falls silent for seven days because of all this. Wouldn’t you?  It’s an interesting silence too.  Seven days to consider how everything had changed.  Ezekiel’s whole concept of the Temple, of priesthood, of religion as a whole, …..the idea of “God, with us”.  It’s a lot to take in.  And Seven days was the Jewish number of perfection. It was out of respect that Ezekiel was silent, it was out of awe.

And God, knowing what humans were capable of, knowing when we need to digest, gives Ezekiel those Seven days to come to grips with the fact that the story that Moses began is still yet unfolding. God was with his people, even in judgment. And his kingdom?   The most valuable place of all,  a willing and humble heart.

Ezekiel Blog 3: Yes, but how??what?huh!

This is my Blog – and right now I’m just commenting on Ezekiel.

I’ve been going through Ezekiel chapters 2-4,…actually several times now. To me there are some fascinating things going on here. As always, I find myself engaged at a human level. My point in writing this is not to repreat the verses, but instead to highlight points where Ezekiel’s experience and message resonate.

For instance, looking at the beginning of Chapter 2, there is a line where God tells Ezekiel, “…I am sending you…” I am very certain that Ezekiel felt the weight of the message he had to carry and knew very well the less than popular reception he was going to get. But going back to Exodus, the I AM is actually speaking here and sending Ezekiel – the same words as spoken to Moses. Ezekiel must have been thinking, “….well at least I’m in good company”. That sense of commission here is very strong. Ezekiel is literally knocked off his feet and God tells him to first stand up back on your feet, and then, I will talk with you.

Any normal human being should be thinking of how he/she would react to similar circumstances. Mostly, it could be summed up as, “AAAAAAAAaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…….!!!??????” panic, panic, panic. Fight or Flight instincts just begging to kick in.

To this, God says to Ezekiel, “Fear not…” Wow (I know, I say that a lot.) But isn’t that the exact same message that the angels said to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus to announce the beginning of the Gospel story? Fear not. I love this message because it is authentic and true to the nature of God’s message, the same message Jesus preached. It’s amazing to me how often that message gets lost in the noise and confusion of modern theological battles between groups hollering at each other over Christian values. Is there really need to fear so much that we must exclude people who don’t conform to our concept of a Godly existence? God’s voice is the voice of peace, therefore, the voice of fear belongs to someone else.

Moving on in this portion of Ezekiel, our hero is standing there wondering how on earth he’s going to carry this message. I’m not equipped for this, he must be thinking. I don’t have the staff for this, my software is out of date, where will I find an online carrier……-what if someone gets confrontational with me because of all this???! These are the questions of man.

First the message.  To Ezekiel’s surprise, this bitter message of judgement on Israel is actually sweet on his tongue, as sweet as honey.  The Word of God is challenging to us, it does take us to new places that are sometimes scary. But the prophets consistently report to us that when they embrace the revealed nature of God, and cast off bagage and preconcieved notions, the message becomes clear, attractive, tasty and good.

Next God tells Ezekiel not to worry about the people to whom he’s tasked with delivering the message.  “I will transform you” is the message to Ezekiel, I will make you just as hard as they are, just as tough.  They are an unpliant people, so I will show them that I can be unpliant too.  I will demand that they open their ears….but don’t be surprised if they don’t listen anyway.

I don’t know if this brought relief to Ezekiel, exactly, but he must have felt bolder and more inclined to risk what God was expecting.

As a side thought, I’ve heard it said that Christianity has nothing to do with the Old Testament.  Here in these chapters we see that, in fact, the opposite is true.  Christianity was ushered in with the words “Fear Not”.  Christ himself often finished his parables with the statement: he that has ears, let him hear – which is a direct reference from the visions of Ezekiel. The message of Christ that the kingdom is here,  is captured in this 3-D Imax vision of Ezekiel where the Spirit if God takes Ezekiel away to the desert and says I will speak with you here….eg. not in Israel, not in the temple, Here where you are.  Jesus told his disciples that even as He was sent, they were now sent, just like Ezekiel.

I see in these chapters the great compassion of God towards humans – those that try hard to embrace God’s nature and message. He preps, He explains, He gives warning, He pleads, He gives words of encouragement, He seems to have a very high opinion of human beings and seems to have undaunted confidence and optimism in us even in the face of His own impending judgements

I’m really meditating on the end of this sequence, but that’s all I have for now….

Ezekiel Blog 2: Vision in the desert

promised myself that when writing on this blog, I would not wait ’til I had come to some great conclusion before I wrote something.  So this will sort be a work in progress.

I read through almost a dozen different books, Bible commentaries, Bible references, etc on the 1st chapter of Ezekiel. Almost everyone has a lot to say about dates, contemporaries, writing style, and personal history of Ezekiel.  I’m surprised no one trotted out his DMV record.  On the other hand, absolutely no one took a swing at looking at Ezekiel’s initial vision from a message standpoint. Lots of guessing about exact symbology and referencing to neighboring nations, but not much else. In the words of one commentary, “…to most of Christianity, Ezekiel remains a closed book….”  I found this statement astounding.

To me, this means its fair game to take a fresh look at the book, at the vision as Ezekiel recorded it and see what message is in there for me,…just like the rest of scripture. What is the message?

Where to start? Everyone else seems to look to Jeremiah and Daniel for reference.  To me Ezekiel’s vision speaks volumes from the desserts which Moses walked – the time in the wilderness of Isreal.  See, I think, ……no I believe that God finally found someone who might be able to digest the message – the same message delivered every single day to the Israelites in the wilderness day after day:   “I am with you”……or “I am” for short. God was on the move every step of the way with Israel, every battle fought, every time clarification was needed on points of the law.

And here we are, with Ezekiel, right back where Israel was way back in Egypt.  Lets see, Israelites in bondage?  Check.  Large dessert between the people and the land of Promise?  Check. Lots of unprincipled behavior going on amoung the people? Check.  Where was their faith?

So God comes to Ezekiel and uses symbols that Ezekiel would recognize since he was a functioning priest. Ezekiel new about the Ark of the Covenant with little statues of  cherubs on the lid with wings extending.  That same Ark had to be carried around by four authorized guys of some spiritual authority.  And the whole goal of Israel was to get that Ark into some kind of final resting place. And there it sat while the nation disolved over the centuries.

The thing about prophecy is that it is more than fortune telling, it is about bringing forth a greater truth to the situation at hand – and there is no greater situation than God on the move.  God’s version of truth and reality that Ezekiel needed to accept was that God was right here, here in this dessert of enemies – just like ancient Isreal.  God moved under his own power as shown by the four living creatures rather than statues. God goes where ever he wants, where ever he directs the spirit as shown by the motion of that miraculous chariot from the north. It’s up, it’s down, it goes here, it goes there. And above of this, it all is the throne of God, as marked by the same fires that Moses saw, and the same thunders and lightings that all of Israel saw at the Mount where the law was given.

And God’s hand rested on Ezekiel.  The message?   We’re back where we started, but this time we’re going to do things differently.  I need you Ezekiel to carry a harder image of me to the people, and they will resist you worse than they resisted Moses.  Moses worked through the plagues of Egypt to free my people. You will work through the plagues of Israel to free my people Israel from the bondage that they created.  In short, stop pining for the way things used to be back in Jerusalem and in the temple, because it wasn’t worth preserving. Better things are ahead,…if you let the seed of truth be planted. I am God, I am where the people are who worship me with faith.  There is a new kingdom worth creating and building.

And this, this is all the authority you need to carry My Word.

Ezekiel Blog 1: Wow.

So, in my reading of Ezekiel, I got all the way to Chapter 8 before I realized that I needed to go back and read the very first sentence again. You know, it’s that sentence that almost never gets read when you’re scanning through a book of the Bible looking for that certain verse…and it absolutely never gets read during a sermon. So after plumbing through chapter 4 several times and then reading on to chapter 8, I went back and read verse 1.

Wow.

So, Ezekiel is an experienced minister after the manner of the traditional professional priesthood. He’s dealing with life as an exile in Babylon. But the first verse shows me how the rest of the book is Ezekiel’s way of dealing with something that shattered his organized world. He packs 4 important things in the very first sentence for us, and at least for me, lets me know that I’m reading about a real person.

What four things? Hmmm?
1) Exactly what date – to the day. None of this “…oh it was in the spring time” or “ten years ago, I think I had a dream….” No it was in such ‘n such year, this month, that day. What ever happened made a specific impression on him.

2) Where was he? He was with his people in exile. Not fasting away on some mountain (been there, done that). He was among the captive outcasts of Israel. He shared their distress – he was hip deep in it.

3) And then? Ezekiel says that ‘….the heavens opened” Again, not “I heard a voice”, or “my impression” or “my feeling”. No. God knew he needed to blow this guy’s socks off to get his attention. From Ezekiel’s reaction I see that this was way off the scale of normal, nothing he would expect being of your average priestly family. Witnessing the heavens open is as unthinkable as going behind the veil in the Holy of Holies in the former Jerusalem temple. Your average Priest just didn’t do something like that.

4) “…and I saw visions of God.” Simple. To the point. Cuts right through it all and rings of sincerity because it is so simple. It is also the very core of witness – I saw, so now I tell.

That’s authenticity folks, and it’s all in one sentence.

Ezekiel Blog: BTW

I’m reading through a commentary on Ezekiel while I am reading Ezekiel for the umpteenth time.  I just wanted some fresh perspective – see it through different eyes.  The book is called “The Prophet Ezekiel”  by Arno C. Gaebelein.   I was able to pull this down from the Gutenburg.org project.

So far it is a very good background source.  I find that I’m focusing a little less on minutia, but some new impressions are popping out at me.   I like the way the commentary is written in that it makes an effort to show the relationship of Ezekiel with other prophetic books. It also tries to provide details concerning the person of Ezekiel and his day to day environment.  It’s all very good information, but I’m trying to get more out of this than just an academic review.  I think this Commentary volume provides a very good balance so far.

Ezekiel Blog: Beginning, somewhere in the middle before the end…

Suppose, that for matters involving your soul, and any type of discovery process you may be in, there really is no good place to start. There is no nice and tidy square one to put your chip on and roll the dice.  But, that is OK. Souls, in my opinion, wake up and expand when things are messy. It is usually under some unforseen circumstance, some out of the blue clash of wills, or impending doom that recently arrived, that you begin to notice that your soul is up and about and taking notes, making suggestions, and pointing out possibilities that would never have occurred to you when you were in “your right mind”.   But that is just one of the differences between mind and soul; one of those two does not have to be exactly square or right to haul off down a path of potential discovery.

So this blog, catches me in the middle. And I’m reading some different things along the way. That being the case, I thought I’d make some note of what I’m reading and anything else that happens to happen while in the process of blowing out some cobwebs.

I’m reading Ezekiel for the first time for the 8th time. I’m also reading a commentary on Ezekiel – but I think I have a few of my own comments to boot. Plus I’m reading another book called New Kind of Christianity.  It’s typical for me to let my brain be pulled in a couple of directions at once.  But there is something about Ezekiel that has always resounded with me…

Peace everyone.