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 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: Temple video – rooms for all the offerings

temple-and-roomsThis is the third video tour of the temple complex described in Ezekiel’s vision as recorded in Ezekiel chapter 42. Animated tour is done using Minecraft to build a 1/4 scale replica (or as close as can be rendered using Minecraft tools.).

Here is the video link: https://youtu.be/bP2f4Ugf33k

In chapter 42 Ezekiel shines a light on what is probably the central most important aspect of building (rebuilding) the temple for his people who are in bondage. What is important to Ezekiel in his vision is the primary function of having a place to bring offerings, make sacrifices, and pray.  That is what the Temple’s primary purpose is – nothing else.  Having the Temple serve other roles is what got the people of Jerusalem into trouble in the first place.

Offerings, sacrifices, and prayer. That is the central focus, the core foundation of the faith to which Ezekiel is calling his people to return.  For us today, one could tag this with the oft repeated axiom, “keep it simple,…”

Everything about the construction of the Temple complex, the layout of the gates, the guards for the gates, the resident priests, the rooms for pilgrimage travelers to stay, rooms for the offerings, and special priests to manage and assist with each of these offerings.  That is the purpose of priesthood. That is the purpose of all of this structure, to assist the people with their personal journey.

It is as Ezekiel says, to create a divide between the common and the sacred, this place was created.  So that the people can come away from the common, it was to be a place to approach the sacred, and to pray.

Notice that ultimately, it is the prayer, sacrifice, and offering of the people who have come that is enshrined, not those who hold office or title.

 

 

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: My version of the end of the world Part II

PhoenixFireEzekiel 39.  In this chapter, Ezekiel, the Prophet of a subjected people,  brings us full circle back to the primary thought of his entire 25 years of prophetic experience.  This is the chapter that is supposed to describe the final battle of Gog and Magog.  A battle that is supposedly referenced in other apocalyptic works such as Revelations.  However, reading this chapter reveals that Ezekiel’s primary focus was on a completely different goal, something other than a triumphant play-by-play of a sensational battle.  In fact, the true goal of the chapter, and the previous chapter 38, is clearly stated in Verse 7 where Ezekiel writes, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned.”  Interesting that it is verse 7 no less – more on that later on.

“How can you say that?!”, you protest.  After all, the very first verse of the chapter 39 is directing Ezekiel to prophesy against Gog, saying that God was against him….whoever he was, chief prince of this land and that. That must mean that an actual literal person was being described. Which also means that a literal actual battle is being described, right?

Um, no. Not quite. Looking at verse 17, Ezekiel is also directed to prophesy to all the birds of the air and wild beasts, calling them to a feast.  In fact, Ezekiel uses the key word of ‘assemble together’ which was discussed in my last blog entry as being the functional opposite of the word Gog.   This is a poetic analog to let the people of Israel, who were currently in bondage in Babylon, that they would be free to gather, coming together in a sacred way, to ‘assemble’, which is the key to the word ‘synagogue’.   In other words, the call was to go out to all the people both free and bond that it was time to come back to the faith. That resurgence of faith, the return to the practice of the true religion, would have very prominent sacred demarcations.

Firstly thought, lets deal with Ezekiel Chapter 39, verse 2.  This verse corresponds to verse 4 in chapter 38.  Both of these verses refer to a very brutal, old world way of steering horses by use of a primitive bridal.  Hooks in the mouth are effective and unmerciful ways of controlling an animal such as a horse.  The imagery here is that there was no choice about the matter on the part of the ‘hordes of nations’ that were being gathered.  Everything that had happened and was about to happen were at the discretion, permission, and direction of God.

Now this flies in the face of the prominent theories today about these chapters of Ezekiel where is it considered a description of the final battle for mankind.  Embedded in that theory is the idea that this bad and awful army will assemble of their own accord, out of the hatred I their hearts and come for the sacred people who will be surrounded.  These people will be outnumbered, but react (be reactive) to the impending threat. This motivates them to a righteous battle (whatever that is supposed to be) where God comes swooping in and makes them all invincible mega-warriors that end up dominating the scene resulting in an almost total annihilation of consummate bloodshed. Somehow this slaughter is looked up with glee and joy by God as a validation of holiness.

At this point you should be scratching your head and wondering how any of that could possibly make any sense as it is completely inconsistent with anything written in the gospels, the writings of the apostles, the Psalms, the Proverbs, Jeremiah, or the Torah.  A Christian reader should immediately spot the contradiction of the supposed necessity of a great sacrifice of blood on the mountain of Israel, a sacrifice by God, to be made after the advent of a risen Christ, who was to be the ultimate sacrifice of blood for the whole world. It does not make sense. Sorry, this entire book is not a foretelling of an impending zombie apocalypse.

No.  Quite the contrary, God is allowing the nations to come with their religions, just like they did the first time when the temple was polluted with idolatry.  He’s drawing them all to a first row seat where his holiness will be validated by a return to faith by his people. They will abstain from their unfaithful practices of the past even though the nations have come to lure them, and the religions of these nations will fall in defeat on the mountain of Israel (otherwise known as places of sacrifice within the temple).   In Ezekiel’s message, God wants to confront the false religions of the world, the ones that lead his people away with idol worship, so that He can make his name Holy in the eyes of Israel, and before the world as well.    It is a message that is much more consistent with the message of all these other sacred and prophetic writings.

What sacred demarkations would herald such an movement then?   Where do we find these clues in Ezekiel’s writings?

In Verse 3, Ezekiel states that God, not God’s army, will strike the bow and the arrow from the right and left hands of Gog – who has become God’s horse temporarily. In other words, God had turned Gog into a tool to be used and the impressive instruments of intimidation have been knocked to the ground. Why? Because true faith can not be spread by oppression and intimidation.  Following this, there is a reference to fire in Verse 6. Fire is an analogue of prayer and sacrifice as sacrifices are burned.  This is confirmed in verses 18 and 19 where the defeated hosts of the oppressive false religions are consumed as sacrifices. Incidentally, this is also a confirmation of a non-literal aspect of this entire chapter for no true Prophet of God would condone or encourage cannibalism as this does not glorify God. Yet that is what these verses would indicate. Clearly, these are again poetic analogies, images used to convey a spiritual overtone to the conflict.

It is a well documented historical fact that Hebrew culture embraced elements of numerology – the practice of ascribing significance and meaning to various key numbers. In other words, numbers were used to convey shades of color about places, people, points in time.  It is a vast topic beyond the scope of this paper. However, at the risk of over-simplification, two very prominent numbers are well known in Prophetic writing: the number 6 and the number 7.  The number 6 is meant to represent that which is the opposite of perfect, what western culture describes as evil. The number 7 is used to describe perfection or holiness, western culture calls this good. Terms such as “Seventh Heaven” are derived from ancient beliefs of an ascendancy to greater levels of perfection defined as heavens until the 7th level of ultimate perfection is reached.

“Seven” is all over the 39th Chapter of Ezekiel, starting with Verse 7, as mentioned above, where Ezekiel declares the purpose of the chapter, which is to make known God’s holy name. The number seven is used to indicate that knowledge of God’s name is a sign of perfection.

Verse 9 continues with a statement that it will take Seven years to burn up all of the weapons that are gathered from the defeated conglomeration of Gog and Magog.  And, once again the reference to fire, things being burned in the fire, is a reference to sacrifices being burned on the alter.  Seven years of ridding the land of every tool that was used to advance the false religions which had overrun the land of the Hebrews.  Not so unimaginable as all that since by the time the Israelites returned from their captivity in Babylon, it would have been 70 years absence.  Nevertheless, seven years of purification of the land, another sign of perfection – that God’s redemption of the people and the land is perfect.

Ezekiel continues this theme in Verse 12 by saying it will take Seven Months to bury all the bodies of the fallen.  He indicates they will do this ‘to make the land clean again’.   So the number seven (months) used to indicate a process of cleansing, for according to the books of the Torah, it was unclean to leave bodies laying about. Are these real human remains, possibly. In some cases, very likely. But everything else has been symbolic, why should not the reference of human remains be symbolic as well, just as the story of the Valley of the Bones was also symbolic?

To me, God’s battle has always been against false religions that steal away truth, that pervert justice, that enslave hearts and souls, and lead his cherished people to dark areas of idolatry. That is the wolf he warns of encircling his flock. God has never cared about this general or that. God never advised that a King be appointed in Israel in the first place, much less anywhere else.  Ezekiel speaks to this in Verse 11 with a single eloquent sentence, “ Gog, at that time I will bury you in a grave in Israel.” It is one of the more remarkable times that God is characterized as speaking directly to something or someone other than the prophet. God wants to bury unbelief in a grave in the newly consecrated ground of Israel, a place made holy, as Holy as His name.

It’s easy, when reading this chapter to think that these verses are about retribution, or even vengeance. But that has not been the way of God, nor the intent of His wishes during this message.  Ezekiel reveals a truer look into the mind of God  in verse 22 and 23. To summarize, (My) People of Israel will know me AND the Nations will know.  Verse 23 & 24 answers WHY this was all done: They (Israel) were not faithful to God. They were unclean. They did many things which were wrong. So God turned his face away.   This is key.  The message embedded in all this imagery is directed FIRST at the Hebrew people so that they can understand their choices had consequences that were being played out. Those consequences were designed to bring them back to a remembrance of their true faith, so that they would know God and keep His name Holy.  It was directed at them. This is the core of Ezekiel’s mission, which is why these two chapters are so intensively tied to Ezekiel’s core message and not to some trendy and fashionable super-army-takes-on-the-world fantasy.  Ezekiel could care less about that.

Further, if this supposed end-of-all-things battle was really the climax of the book of Ezekiel’s writings, then logically, the book should end right there. If this was the final message, there would be no need to continue on. But in the larger scheme of Ezekiel’s writings, the story of Gog and Magog are really only a small blip – two rather average chapters.  Ezekiel spent more time describing the relationship between Israel and Tyre. The book of Ezekiel continues on beyond this segment to his real climactic ending in the final 10 chapters. (that’s ten whole chapters) following this segment.  That’s where the fulfillment of his vision is described in exacting detail.

Just as wonderfully, the message of Ezekiel in this immediate chapter, 39, goes way beyond redemption of Israel. It goes beyond simple recovery of a piece of land.  Also included in the idealized statements of the state of holiness and perfection that has been worked upon the recovered people of Israel is a missional statement.  Verse 27 holds this additional value to the entire effort when God states, “And I will use them to prove to many nations how holy I am.”   Ah, the many nations. They have seen that their ways do not last and have no power. In Ezekiel’s mind, they will also see the truth and come to wonder.

As I said before, these chapters are about sacredness, purity of faith, redemption, and most of all Hope.

My version of the end of the world has no end. Just hearts trying to learn something new and giving up on stuff that just doesn’t do anybody any good.

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog: My version of the end of the world, part I

OK, this section won’t be popular with many folks.  But hey, that’s what happens when we dismiss 1000 years of preconceived notions and assumptions, things that have been handed down that you and I are just supposed to accept.   The biggest assumption is that Chapters 38 and 39 are the climax of the book, and that the remaining chapters are just add on material – usually relegated to the category of “boring stuff”.  I have an alternative view of Ezekiel’s message through these chapters which challenges the established assumptions.

Alternative answers come from alternative questions. My questions are:  what was Ezekiel’s main reason for going through all the hassle of being a prophet to a people in bondage?  What was his raison d’etre? What did he think about night and day? What was his central mission?

You might say that it’s a little late in the run through of the Book of Ezekiel to consider these questions, particularly since we are sitting on the door step of Chapter 38 and 39, the description of the supposed final battle.  However, I believe this to be the essential key to the entire book, the entire mass of Ezekiel’s writings, which is why we’ve used this as a framework, the lens through which we’ve examined his work.  It certainly helps explain most of the book up to these two chapters, as well as the remaining 10 chapters that conclude the book, which chapters are the real climax of the story.  I think the question applies clarity to chapters 38 & 39 equally as much, the chapters the tell of Gog and Magog and the Battle of the Lord.

So to set up this discussion, we have a very strong set of NAMEs enter the writings of Ezekiel at chapter 38 and 39: Gog and Magog.  This is supposed to be the great leader of the far northern nations who builds a coalition of surrounding nations with the intent of attacking the newly re-established nation of Israel.  This new threat will succumb to the idea and intention of attacking a place without walls, and taking everything of value.  It is promised that the Lord will prevent their success, rain damaging attacks down on them, and ultimately preserve Israel in order to verify to the world the Holiness of His Name.

Sounds great, huh?!  You might be asking, “What is a Gog?” Excellent question and one the world has been speculating about for the last 1500 years…at least.  There are many, many interpretive theories ranging from practical to resoundingly absurd.  Most of these theories source from the preconceived theological or geo-political preferences of the authors.  A natural tendency, and very hard to overcome.

After reviewing many published viewpoints,  I have come to conclude that the majority of commentaries fall into the trap of believing that the Prophet Ezekiel was writing his oracles from a basis of seeking external validations. The assumption is that we can find some evidence of his prophecies “coming true” by looking at historical events as if the prophet was giving us a preview of upcoming events in news-ticker fashion.   It simply is not so and attempts to interpret from that standpoint fail every time.  It fails because that is not the true job of a prophet.

Take a closer look at  Ezekiel chapter 38 & 39.  Most people conclude that these are failed prophecies since they did not come true, or have not come to pass yet -thereby lending to the mythology that this relates to events far in the future.  In the face of these two accusations, some commentators grasp for the most obvious elements of the chapters in desperate efforts to identify which actual country fits the bill for MaGog based on an ever bewildering set of criteria. There are many, many interpretive theories ranging from practical to resoundingly absurd.  Most of these theories source from the preconceived theological or geo-political preferences of the authors.  A natural tendency, and very hard to overcome. One extreme example of this can be found here: http://trackingbibleprophecy.com/gog_magog.php .  Scary stuff indeed.  Yet, way off and full of bias.  The thinking goes that if the countries can be identified, then theoretically a political leader can be identified who most resembles Gog as described.  This approach will continue to fail and readers will continue to be disillusioned because that is not what Ezekiel is talking about.

But, what if Gog is not a person?  After all, the word Gog is a noun and a noun can be a person, place or thing.  So,what if we change the assumptions and we work from the framework that Ezekiel did not care what we (here in our time, ages beyond Ezekiel)  thought about his unspecific references?  It leads me back to my original hypothesis to use Ezekiel’s core mission as a guide, a compass pointing the way.

Simply put, Ezekiel was a Priest of the temple. His mission was the same as a Rabbi today, which is to strengthen the faith of his people – to bring them to a closer remembrance of their faith through an identification with the story of their past. To do so, and throughout his writings, Ezekiel made references to key components of Jewish history eg. the Exodus story, the commandments, the law, the practices at the temple.  And being a highly educated Priest of the Temple, Ezekiel also used  a typical Hebrew practices of word play within his text.  For detail on that practice, refer to the following link, among many other resources that agree.

http://jewishstudies.rutgers.edu/docman/rendsburg/216-word-play-in-bh/file

Keeping that in mind, lets look at the actual words being used here and then I’ll suggest some other words to add into the mix. Here is the word GOG as written in the original Greek, and below it is the same word written in the original Hebrew.  Both languages are represented here because there are two original versions of Ezekiel, the Masoretic Text of Ezekiel, and the Septuagint version of Ezekiel. Each somewhat different from each other.

γώγ :  Γωγ Γὼγ Gog Gōg Gṑg   – Strongs Greek

גוג – Hebrew

You can see it is a three character word in all of the languages.  Magog is just a derivation of that as shown below.  In one translation, it means belonging of or coming from Gog.

Μαγώγ : Magog

These two words have a murky history – the etymology is not very clear.  Scholars mostly speculate about the meanings/translation because there is no specific origin language.   However, at least one discussion chooses a very simple approach and states that GOG refers to the top or apex of a roof.  Magog is derived from this and refers to that which is not the top of the roof – that which is under the roof or below the apex.   We will come back to this in a moment, this symbology is important. Humans tend to use very basic references to get an idea across.   Here is a link to that discussion:

http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Gog.html#.V0oyH4-cGM8

Let me now bring my two lines of thinking together, the word play component, the basic translation above, as well as some interesting points from chapter 38 verses 10-15.    Lets start with verse 11 where Gog is portrayed as saying, “…I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people—all of them living without walls and without gates and bars.”   This is a really strange verse.  It is strange because people, humans, always build walls – especially back then.  In fact, the very first thing the Hebrews did when they actually returned from exile was to start building the wall around Jerusalem.  We know this from reading the Book of Ezra and Book of Nehemiah.  So what was Ezekiel talking about?

To piece that together, we look at another word that originates from that time:

Synagogue : synagogue, also spelled synagog (pronounced /ˈsɪnəɡɒɡ/ from Greek συναγωγή

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synagogue

The translation of synagogue literally means ‘assembly’ or where the people gather, where people come and go freely.  Its a place where the true faith that Ezekiel envisioned would be practiced daily and where the entire community was invited on an equal basis (more on this later). Only a place without bars or gates to keep people out could be considered a place where Ezekiel’s people would be living in peace.

Notice that the word GOG is embedded in the word SynaGOGue.  So in a theological sense (which is what was most important to Ezekiel) these two words are opposites of each other.  Ezekiel’s use of Gog refers to a condition of having a single person elevated above all others eg. the “chief ruler” or “chief prince”,  the other means to have everyone assembling together in faith.  Hierarchy vs. Community, Elite vs. Accessible (no gates or bars), Arbitrary Single Authority pushed down on the masses (Magog) vs.  a Holy People true to the last person to the Justice and Holiness of God.    Chapter 38 verse 16 backs this up this play of opposites when Ezekiel writes, “In days to come, Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.”  As a further reference, Chapter 39 verse 17, Ezekiel even uses the word ‘Assemble’ along with its definition ‘come together’ from the Greek ‘syn’ (in synagogue) when he states “Assemble and come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you…”

Now lets look at another portion of this chapter which begs the question about identifying Gog as a specific person.   In Verse 17 Ezekiel writes, “You are the one I spoke of in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel.”  Exactly who have the prophets been talking about throughout Israel’s history?  Ezekiel, being a fully trained and educated Priest of the Temple would be intimately familiar with every single prophet that was ever revered within their religion.  However, the evil doer Gog is first mentioned only in Ezekiel’s writings.  Other people have had that name, but they hardly fit the billing as advertised in apocryphal writings, so it would seem that Ezekiel is not describing a specific person in a specific place and time. Yet Ezekiel is clear, this has been spoken of before.

He explicitly returns to this in Chapter 39: 7-8, writing, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel. It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord. This is the day I have spoken of.”

It seems there is another imbedded reference in the paring of Gog and Magog. it has long been established that the Idol worship religions of the entire region used the ‘High Places’ as places of sacrifice.  These are the very same high places that Ezekiel has railed against throughout this entire book.  Idolatry had invaded Hebrew way of life replacing their true religion. To speak of sacrifice in the afore mentioned verse (Chapter 39:17) is a direct reference to that. However, in this context, it is God declaring his victory over false religion and making their demise a sacrifice offering.  In case it isn’t clear, a high place, where the idol stands, where sacrifices are made, would be at the apex of a structure such as a Ziggurat which was a common structure through out the early Mesopotamian region for the Idol based religions – and thus Gog.  Ezekiel then defines Gog as the practice of Idol worship and sacrifice to false Gods, that being the chief ruler or chief prince, standing at the top of all the ruling dynasties of almost every nation surrounding Jersusalem (Magog – that which is not at the top but associated to it).   Ezekiel clearly defines God’s objective back in Chapter 38 vs 16, stating, ” In days to come, Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.”  This is a religious objective, not a military or political objective.

To sum up what we have so far then, Ezekiel’s message is one of hope to his exiled people, a people who are in bondage, a people who are mocked because of their religion. They are a tiny religious minority in a vast dominant culture of idolatry.  Dominant culture seems to have prevailed over their faith.  Ezekiel has gone to great lengths to explain why. He will do yet more explaining in the rest of Chapter 39. But true to the nature of his calling – a Priest of the Temple, a teacher, a religious leader, and a true Prophet of God – he speaks a message of hope, that the true way of Jehovah will overcome, that God’s name will be Holy again, and that only a complete purging of all these other false religions (Idolatry) will open the door to a renewal of their people.

The battle of Gog and Magog isn’t about a political/military conflict at the end of the world.  That would assume that God plays favorites among men and picks this ruler over that ruler and having a person win somehow makes God’s name Holy.  No. That doesn’t even work in highschool football when people pray for victory, etc.   God is interested in faith, faith of the community, and the open and free assembly of His people – those who choose Him.  No bars or gates to keep His people out, no high place to raise one above the many to accumulate human glory.  There is no final world battle – according to Ezekiel – only an accumulation of fervor for the nurturing love of God who has endured centuries of the profaning of His name by His own people.

Part II of my version of the End of the World will focus on Chapter 39 a bit more, and also focus on the How and the Why of the fall of Gog and Magog and how this builds us up to the real climax of the book of Ezekiel.