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.

 

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Ezekiel blog: Minecraft fly-thru of Ezekiel’s temple part 2

Ezekiel chapter 41 is about the actual temple building within the Temple complex that Ezekiel envisioned. There is a tremendous amount of detail and measurements about the door, the inner hall, the altar, the main chamber called The Most Holy Place, etc.  It’s easy to get bogged down in all this, which is why I made the video fly-through tour.

Ezekiel Chapter 41 Temple Fly through via Minecraft video

However, Ezekiel’s mission has not changed. The detail provided here is to assure his people of the sacredness of this intended place of prayer and worship and to give them a vivid sense of reality about the structure, to imagine in precise detail.  There is symbology associated with the structure and the orientation of the doors and the gates all of which is a matter of debate and interpretation.

Of note to me, is the orientation of the building and main hall opening to the east, with the altar fire as the focal point.  This has certain tribal connotations as well as emphasizes the overriding function of the entire complex is to enable the people to be able to come to a place of prayer, sacrifice and worship.  As we’ll get into later, all of the staff – the priests of the temple – are dedicated to this purpose, and not to the purpose of self-promotion, self-grandizement, or self-exceptionalism.

This building is about fairness and equality through and through.

 

Ezekiel blog: Chapter 40 Minecraft Fly-through of Ezekiel’s temple part 1

Greetings folks. It’s been a while since I’ve posted and I thought it was time to continue on to the conclusion of this blogging project.  My family challenged me to try to build a visual representation of Ezekiel’s Temple from his series of visions beginning with Ezekiel chapter 40.  So I used the video game Minecraft to create this video which is a fly-through of a 1/4 size replica based on the dimensions Ezekiel provided.

It was an  interesting exercise.  By making the words take actual shape, it was possible to see that there were other concerns that Ezekiel was addressing rather than only architectural requirements.  As you walk through the complex, some things about how he envisioned religious life should be become more clear.

You can get to it here at Ezekiel Temple Minecraft Tour Chapter 40

This first video gives just an overview of the complex itself – much like the gist of chapter 40.  In my next videos, I’ll continue the tour as Ezekiel himself describes his vision.  Along the way, I’ll share some points that we can infer from how things are designed.

Note: If you follow my blog, and are Native/Indigenious, be sure to take note of how the Temple is oriented with regard to the directions. It might be of interest to you.

 

Ezekiel blog: Little gems

Ezekiel chapter 16 – final stretch

My wife is a big fan of watching the BBC version of “Pride and Prejudice”.  Over the years of watching that production with her, I’ve also developed an appreciation for period pieces like that story.  One of the things that made watching that mini-series so fascinating was observing how every time we followed the story, my wife would recognize some new gem of insight about the motivation of the characters, or extract some new connection between events.  She would express such excitement about these discoveries and insist that I get it too.   Yes, guys, real men can watch chick-flicks.

What does this have to do with the end of Ezekiel though?   In many ways, verses 35-63 are like reading a very complicated story over and over again.  The same context is repeated eg.  Israel had a bad history, current practices were terrible, and God enacts judgment followed swiftly by punishment.  Ezekiel takes us through this as if he’s trying to be sure that we get the circumstances. No disrespect intended, but he seems to have been very anal that way.

But along the way, we are treated to little bits of gained insight that Ezekiel has prized from the narrative.  Here are some of them that stand out to me:

1. It is because Israel did not remember her humble origins that God brings it all down on her head.  So: remember where you come from.

2. “Hey, you wanted all these lovers and all this attention?  Then I’m not going to step in and stop it when things get totally out of control.  Maybe an overdose will scare you enough.  ”  Yikes, hope I don’t need an intervention like this in my life.

3. God really doesn’t like proverb quoters.   I’m not talking about the book of Proverbs, but those annoying little platitudes that really don’t express any kind of real theology or faith, but are used as pseudo-religious bandaids of the moment.  Proverb-quoters….you know who you are.  Pay attention to this chapter for real.

4. Crimes of Sodom:   Arrogant, over-fed, and unconcerned.  Haughty and unresponsive to the poor and needy.   We all know what happened there.  Uh-huh, ‘nough said.

5. Ok, I know I said ‘nough said, but Sodom only measured up to HALF of how bad Israel was being at this point. That’s HALF as bad, and they got blown off the map.  What were you saying about God’s patience?

6. “Israel ! You broke our covenant! ”   God takes covenants very seriously.  It’s a big deal….and something God will work very hard to create, protect, rebuild, and recreate when necessary.

7. More on covenants, this is the one thing that God believes can actually be healed with Israel.  It’s the one thing in the entire chapter that is discussed in future tense.  God says He “will remember” and He “will establish”.   The object here?!  If he can find hope in such a disaster of a situation, then he can find hope for each one of us.

8. My anger will END. I will turn away my anger and be jealous no longer. When I make atonement for all that you have done…. etc. etc.

Can you imagine what a boost this must have been to Ezekiel who is still sitting out there in the desert wondering what is to become of his people who have been chased from their ancestral home and away from their spiritual center place? To hear that there will be a time when the covenant will be renewed and a time when anger will be turned away. At last some good news and something to hope for.

I’ve heard again and again how the Old Testament seems to be focused on an “Angry” and “Vengeful” God. In this chapter, I see quite the opposite. This story is about a long suffering and patient beyond patient God. He wants to bring His anger to an END. And can anyone doubt what He has in mind for the phrase “atonement for all that you have done”? There is a group within the Christian community who dismiss and ignore the Old Testament because it appears to have little to do with the New Testament message. From my perspective, I find a rich connection between the two collections of written scripture….as did the original believers in the message of Hope.

And now, I am done with Chapter 16. Thanks for hanging in there with me if you are reading along.

 

 

Ezekiel blog: A long story begins

Ezekiel chapter 16 is one of the longer chapters, and if I do say so, a bit creepy in some respects (at least one commentary agrees with that).  We are taken away through Ezekiel’s visionary experience into a long metaphor of the history of Israel.

Ezekiel paints a picture of a truly undesirable beginning.  It’s a common story even today eg. wrong parents, undesirable lineage, bad neighborhood, no economic standing, bad hygiene, living in rags and poverty. No one would want her, Israel that is.  We are told that God took enormous care and patience, long suffering to watch over Israel as she grew.  All the growing pains, correcting measure by measure.  This is a process that took centuries of history.

If we look at this today, it flies in the face of the modern accusation that the God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath and quick vengeance.  Absolutely not true.  Here we have a patient and nurturing God who forgives blatant imperfection. He see’s the potential of what could be. God planted the seeds of richness and watched them grow.

There is a line in this chapter that I really love – though it sounds so much better in the poetic text of the KJV. It says,

Then washed I thee with water;
yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee,
and I anointed thee with oil.

It is a promise to each one of us, spoken clearly into the middle of the mess we find ourselves living every single day.

What’s more, we see in this chapter that the neighboring nations are directly referenced, and this is for a reason.  Ezekiel tells of God’s excitement about presenting his precious jewel of Israel to all the other nations. Why?  Why is that?

I think it tells of us the intention to bring hope and improvement to the other nations – who are also of God’s creation – by showing Israel as an example.   It’s almost as if He’s saying, “Look! Look at what I was able to do with the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak.  I can also bring you closer to perfection if you come to my presence and forsake your pride and evil ways.  Here is the example. Here is what is waiting for you”

Isn’t that what Jesus said in one of his sermons too, when He said “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.”  I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, that there is such a huge connection between the Gospels  and the Old Testament prophets.

It is the same message, but you have look closely.

From  a personal perspective, does that mean you or I are supposed to hold ourselves out as examples?  I submit to you that the answer is No.  How do you know when you are perfect in God’s view?  No, it was for God to decide the moment and time, and present His work to the nations. Similarly, it is for God to decide when to use you for an example

All we can do is present ourselves to our neighbors and community as imperfect creatures – a work in progress.  And share that message that if God is willing to invest time and materials in me, then He surely is willing to do the same for you.

I find a certain amount of peace in this message – and this is the good news of the Gospel.

Next blog will traverse further into Ezekiel chapter 16 to see what happens next. What does Israel do, and how does the vision progress?

 

 

Ezekiel blog 14: Fresh embers

This is my blog on the chapters of Ezekiel, and we’re up to Chapter 10 of Ezekiel.  It’s the end of this three chapter trilogy so to speak.

Since it’s the big finish, not very much happens from an action standpoint – of course.  Ezekiel spends lots of time on detail. He’s making sure that he, and the rest of us, are on the same page that this vision of a chariot is the exact same chariot that he encountered out on the desert plain where he received his calling to prophesy.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some crucial things going on here.  Something that catches my eye is that the angel from the last chapter who was to mark every person in Jerusalem that was still keeping the faith is now given a new task. The commentaries out there really do not go into very much detail on this. And, of course, with angels there is always a large level of symbolism to interpret. This presents a problem for the rest of us because interpretation is rather subjective.

Here’s my stab at it.  Since so much of Ezekiel’s vision draws him back to the original narrative of the Moses story and the Exodus, I have to wonder about the fires used in the original temple that Israel carried all over the desert.  Ezekiel chapter 40 talks about setting up the tabernacle.  It’s significant to me that Moses is instructed to set up the alter of burnt offerings FIRST, and then arrange the rest of the court, tabernacle, the ark, etc around this. In other words, priority is given to the place of worship and sacrifice on behalf of the people. It is specifically an annointed place when it is set up and readied for use.

God tells the angel to go to the alter of sacred fire which is part of the chariot that has been described.  An angel reaches in with his bare hands to bring out sacred coals. Only that which is pure can touch the fires of heaven. It is these coals that the angel in linen is directed to spread all over Jerusalem.

To me, this is God’s way of purifying the common places of Jerusalem where the faithful are still lingering, hidden away and mourning for their faith.  But more importantly, God is demonstrating that the steps of the existing temple where the current alter of sacrifice stands profaned is by no means the only place where the faithful may come to pray.  God is moving that capability out among the people, they may offer their sacrifice in the place where they are found.  Like Ezekiel, they can come out into the plain, out into the desert place to seek the Glory of God and present their sacrifice of a willing heart.

The Lord is then described as leaving the threshold of the Temple and moves to the chariot.  From their His Glory moves to the door of the Eastern gate, preparing to leave the temple complex altogether.  The Eastern gate, which looks to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, the gate through which Jesus approach Jerusalem.   That places is holy only in so much as the Lord resides there, and here we are told that he had vacated as it was no longer sacred to the people.

Similarly, our hearts are temples to the Lord only in so much as the Lord resides there.  Let the embers burn, let the offering burn as a freely given sacrifice. See that the Lord accepts the personal offering of faith.  Let the angel place the mark on me and record it before the Lord. So let it be written, let it be done.