Ezekiel blog 68: Name of a city

At last we come to Ezekiel’s final chapter, chapter 48. He is about to complete his vision of the restoration of his people, those who are captive under guard in Babylon to their tribal lands in Israel. He sees this as an opportunity to fairly reallocate lands to each tribe, to establish the royal/sacred city, and offer some final comments about the equity of it all.  It is a roll-call of all the tribes in Israel and an establishment of their place.  To each a name is given, to each a gate is named and given.

This leads Ezekiel to the last sentence of his prophecy – the name of the city:  “The Lord is There”.  So what’s in a name?  It’s just a name, right?  In this case, Ezekiel has loaded the name with all kinds of meaning.

By writing the name of the city at the very end, he is indicating that everything else must be accomplished first, and that when everything that has been described in the visions has been faithfully carried out, then the city will receive it’s name.  The name itself takes us back to Ezekiel chapter 11 where Ezekiel sorrowfully reports that the Lord has removed himself away from the city and land of Jerusalem.  So, by achieving all within the visions which lead up to this last chapter number 48, it is an act of faith inviting the Lord to resume residence in a place made sacred through offering, sacrifice, and prayer – all acts of faith.

This was meant as a final enticement to Ezekiel’s fellow captives, something concrete that they could hold on to as they endured their captivity. This entire vision could be accomplished and they would once again become a holy people. This was an immediate hope, not a hope of someday thousands of years in the future, etc. etc.

Ezekiel writes, “…from that time on…” by which he is indicating that this vision, this restoration of faith, is just a beginning point, not the end goal.

Ezekiel is a book of beginnings, not of the end. It is a book of hope amid destruction and despair. Ezekiel’s writings are a pathway through judgement and condemnation towards cleansing and rededication.

Ezekiel ministered with his entire soul, and desperately carried an arduous vision on behalf of his people so that they might live.

 

 

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Ezekiel blog 67: River of sacred justice

Ezekiel takes us to a river in Chapter 47, a river with curious properties.  This river has its origin at the very steps of the temple sanctuary, flows from the south side of the complex. It heads East, winding through the land all the way down to the Dead Sea.

Looking around the region to see what other nations/cultures thought about rivers, we find some nice examples in both Babylon and Greece.

Babylonian justice code had a sacred river test. For the questionable case of a suspected magic practitioner the test was sink or swim.  Those that could swim to safety were considered innocent.

The Greeks had the river Styx which was named after their goddess Styx.  This goddess was put in charge of all oaths and promises, those made of a sacred nature.  The Greek story describes a beautiful land at the end of that river, a rich field of forests and green all fed by the river.

Attempting to draw any type definitive connection between these religion’s representational view of these rivers and the river that flows through Ezekiel’s vision can go no further than speculation.  It is not possible to say that Ezekiel’s river corresponds to these other rivers. However, it is interesting to note that in all three cases, the rivers were associated with things of a spiritual nature eg. sacred oaths, tests of innocence, sacred justice and law.

In Ezekiel’s case, the river gets deeper and deeper as it flows forth across the land to the point where no one can cross it.  Could that symbolize that justice can not be crossed? Who knows.  All that we can say is that this part of his vision takes us away from the methodical measurements and exactness of law, and back into the place setting of symbolism and vision.

It’s part of the icing on the cake as Ezekiel begins to close out his series of visions, and part of the final incentive to his people to embrace the calling to faith that Ezekiel is presenting.  A river, flowing through the dessert which brings teaming life where ever it goes. Fruit trees grow on both banks and the waters team with fish. So Ezekiel may be telling his people that life flows from the law which proceeds from the Sanctuary of the Temple, from the practice of the faith as described throughout the entire vision.

It should not be overlooked that further a further metaphor is potentially present in the reference to the fruit trees described as growing on both sides of the river.  These trees bear their fruit on a monthly cycle and are ready to harvest regularly.  It could be said that these trees represent the various other nations or groups of people that live by the law of the temple and are also fed by this water which flows from the temple. The regular fruit harvest could represent their monthly offerings and sacrifices which they bring.  The ability to bring offering and sacrifice before the altar of the Lord has been an indicator of how well the people flourished in the land and is referenced in other circumstances.

Moving away from the topic of the river, Ezekiel switches to a geographic explanation as he draws the boundaries of the lands of Israel to show his people the that fruits to be harvested from the river’s bounty will be sufficient for the whole nation.  According to his vision, the richness of existence will provide an inheritance worth having, an inheritance assigned to each family and tribe. It is also an inheritance which is not exclusive but to be shared with others who choose to live by the law.

In a return to Ezekiel’s theme of fairness and social justice, Ezekiel makes a special note about the population in the final verses of the chapter.  Verse 22 states: “You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.”

In other words, Ezekiel is anticipating that the benefits of being a faithful people, a people who abide by the law, will attract others to come live in the land of Israel and be part of the community.  From the very outset, Ezekiel’s vision was inclusive, not exclusive.  In Ezekiel’s view, many would want to come and live according to the faith, to be near the temple and practice Offering, Sacrifice, and Prayer.

 

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.

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: 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: Vol II – God does not keep score

Ezekiel chapter 33 is about many things. Many people get hung up on the ease of assigning a label to Ezekiel, that of Watchman.  One commentary I read makes that the theme of Ezekiel chapter 33.   If I had to summarize this section down, I’d go with “God is not in the business of keeping score”; more on this later.  As I said before, this chapter has many themes.

In the last blog entry, I stated that the first six verses were about communication and answering the question, “Who is responsible for the state I’m in?”

Moving on to verse 7 and beyond, it would be easy to look at this as simply Ezekiel’s calling being explained – he is the watchman, woe to any and all who do not heed, etc, etc.  However, I read a much more important theme and one that is very relevant to us living our lives in the world.  FAIRNESS.  Fairness is what is happening in this explanation.

Ezekiel is being told, and thus the elders of the Hebrews are being told, that there are no special cases, no instances that what applies to you does not apply to me. Just because a person is a member of the holy elite, does not mean that the same standards are not applied.  It’s clear when Ezekiel writes, “…If I tell you to warn, and you do not, then blood is on your hands”.   God does not play favorites, because God is not a respecter of persons.  This is a difficult concept for humans to get their arms around, but it is a common theme throughout all of Ezekiel’s writings.

We are then presented with an interesting adage making its way around the Israelites living in captivity.  Ezekiel records it like this, “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of  them. How then can we live?”  Elements of depression and self pity are laced through this, but also a hint of disavowal or abandonment of future responsibility.  Almost a resignation of what is as a permanent condition.

But the question, How can we live?  still remains.  And here we come across one of the rarely mentioned gems of the Old Testament, or Biblical scripture as a whole.  God tells Ezekiel something significant: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

So firstly, Ezekiel’s insight into the nature of God is that God is not sitting around with a scratch pad gleefully counting up transgressions and just waiting to pull the trigger on furious judgments and penalties.  Instead, God is expecting that people make choices, and continue to choose. God is hoping that people look at their lives and choose a path that leads towards a pattern of living that is consistent with the themes of justice, of fairness, of mercy, of faith.

Secondly, this is an absolutely unmistakable marker for free will and expression of free conscience, that rejects the notion that God is looking for a flock of minions that blindly do His bidding without question nor understanding.  In fact, Ezekiel phrases this as a plea from God’s own mouth asking the question, “Why will you die?…”  This is choice and nothing other than choice.  Ezekiel calls his people to examine their ways for what they are.   Reflect, examine, weigh, discern, judge, and then turn, make a change for the better,… and live. Are we not offered the same expectation, the same opportunity for expression of will, the same portent of our choices?

It is the same for each one, and that is Justice.

The final two points of this section of Ezekiel 33 come back to the idea that God is not an accountant of misdeeds but instead is a God of Justice and Fairness.  For the first point, it is important to keep in mind that God has His own ideas of what is just. The same goes for what is fair.

If we look at verse 12,  at first blush this seems to be a bewildering formula that borders on unfair, especially to those who view scripture as a line-by-line codex of laws and better-does. How can this be fair?  Someone who does good their entire life, and then makes one slip-up and they are condemned?  Oh, and someone spends an entire life living the high-life without regard to anyone else and then gets a free pass just because they turn over a new leaf at the very end?  That’s not right.  (This is also the specific root of the Last Rites, incantation – an attempt to wedge someone into heaven on the last open seat ticket).    Whaaaatt!!?

But that is not what Ezekiel is trying to convey because, it would imply that God is a score keeper, a craggy accountant sitting somewhere up in heaven with a clipboard making little checkmarks for every little action we do. Instead, Ezekiel is trying to point his people towards a state of living, a condition of community, where choices make a difference, and the value of another soul matters, a place where everyone has a stake in the balance of good and evil. Notice the examples that Ezekiel trots out to demonstrate a turning from bad choices:  the returning of unfair collateral for a loan, the return of stolen property of funds are the top two on his list. Fairness.

This mental/spiritual framework leads us to a conclusion that it is a state of living that God is trying to elevate his people, all of his creation for that matter, towards.  This is what Ezekiel refers to as “the decrees of life”.   In this sense, then, if you are living in the good way, and deviate away, then you detach from that state of holiness, that flow of the decrees of life, and are now on a path away from life as described earlier.  If you are not living in a good way, and turn, then you attach to that state of holiness, that flow of the decrees of life and are now on a path towards life as described earlier.  In this framework, it is all fairness as it applies equally to all people as God sees them.

And as for Justice?  Well, this is God’s own complaint.  As Ezekiel informs us, the Hebrew people that are in Babylonian captivity seem prone to expressing their frustration in the form of blame: God is not Just.   Verses 17 -20 are God’s rebuttal against that charge and a very direct explanation of the process of judgment from on high. It ends with a promise that God will indeed reserve judgment to Himself, and that He will keep on judging in His own Just way, ….according to our own actions.

So in the end, it comes down to our choices, our agency, our sense of living in a good way.  Who is responsible for my situation?  I guess I am.

We’ll finish up with Chapter 33 next time.  Lots of stuff in here, but it’s all good. Hang in there.