19. Son of Man

Focus on Christ Meditations: 19.  Son of Man

Mt 8:20  Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head

We have just gone from considering Jesus Christ being the Logos, the Word, the reason behind all things, to Jesus of Nazareth, the human being, apparently with human origins. Now we come to a description of Jesus – Son of Man – that he uses a number of times of himself. This is worth noting, that this is a description that others don’t use of him but only he uses of himself.

The phrase comes first, I believe, in the psalms: what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psa 8:4 also Psa 80:17, 144:3) but its greatest use in the Old Testament is in Ezekiel where 93 times God uses this term to speak to Ezekiel, a term emphasizing the prophet’s humanity as he was addressed by the transcendent God. It also appears twice in Daniel in 7:13 and 8:17. It is interesting to note that whereas in the psalms it is a phrase that refers generally to human beings and comes with small-case ‘son’, in Ezekiel you will find its many uses are as a title with capital-letter ‘Son’ and this is also true of Jesus’ use of the phrase.

The words, “son of” are used literally hundreds of times in the Bible and invariably they show the relational link of son to father (highlighting background or origin) and so when we come to ‘son of man’ we see the emphasis on the relation of the individual to the human race at large. It is a constant reminder that we are frail and limited human beings and distinct from God. It is a little like the use of ‘Israel’ and ‘Jacob’; they are both the same person but the use of Jacob is a constant reminder of his origins – a conniving, scheming, cheating, twister. Israel reminds us of the one who has had dealings with and affirmation by God. When capital letters are employed – Son of Man – it is clearly a title that still makes that emphasis but even more strongly.

But why does Jesus use this term? In Matthew’s Gospel which emphasises the Jewish aspect of the Messiah and of his kingdom, it appears 27 times. (NB. In what follows, I have managed to pick up 78 uses of the term in the gospels, but my Bible dictionary says there are in fact 81 uses. Take my figures as ‘at least’). In Mark it appears 14 times and in Luke 24 times, and even in John whose big emphasis is on Jesus as the universal Son of God and who emphasises the relational aspect of divine Son to divine Father, the words appear 13 times, and so even John remembers its use and therefore its significance. Yet, why was it significant?

For that we have to go back to Dan 7:13,14 – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Now there we have lower case indicating just one who looked like an ordinary human being. But notice what we are told about this one.

First of all this is a vision of heaven and this one comes before God – “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” Second, he is divinely appointed – “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power.”  Third, as a result of this, “all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.” (You only worship divinity). Fourth, he is made a ruler with an eternal and indestructible kingdom: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” That is incredible, a person in human form, who can stand before Almighty God, and who is equipped to be an eternal ruler and who receives the worship of all mankind. No wonder the scribes and the teachers and the religious leaders scratched their heads over this – and no wonder Jesus takes and uses this simple little phrase so many times of himself.

When Jesus eventually stands on trial before the high priest, we see, “the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”  “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14:61,62) where Jesus purposely affirms he is the Christ and then goes on to link it with the prophetic Son of Man clearly linking it to the Daniel prophecy which the high priest understands as a claim to divinity and thus, in his eyes at least, to blasphemy.

In Matthew, Jesus’ use of the term shows us him showing the human side of the term: 8:20 having no home, 11:18,19 eating and drinking with sinners, 12:32 one who can be spoken against, 13:37 one who is a sower of the word of God, 16:13 one over whom questions can be asked, 20:18  & 26:24,45 and one who will be betrayed. Yet equally, if not more strongly, the divine side of the term: 9:5,6 one who has authority to forgive sins and heal, 12:8 one who is Lord of the Sabbath, 12:40 one who will die and rise from the dead after three days, 13:41 one who will judge all sin, 10:23, 16:28, 24:27 one who will return in power, 17:9 one having been raised from the dead, 17:12 after having suffered unjustly, 20:27,28 having given his life as a ransom for many, 19:28 and one who will rule eternally in heaven.

This prophetic term is thus one of the strongest used of Jesus revealing his incredible claims that accord perfectly with the prophetic scriptures. The term emphasizes the humanity of the Messiah on one hand – Son of Man – but at the same time brings to the fore the prophetic being seen in Daniel in heaven. Perhaps we should also add that the use of the term so many times in Ezekiel also implies by Jesus use of the same term, that he was emphasizing his role as God’s prophetic servant. As Jesus uses it so many times, it seems there is a multi-faceted message being conveyed – the prophetic messiah in human form, coming as a prophetic servant, coming to draw alongside us in our humanity while at the same time establishing God’s eternal kingdom on earth. Wow!

To reflect upon: scroll back to the Daniel verses and marvel again at the wonder of this being who is revealed there. Worship him.

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42. Ezekiel (3)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 42.  Ezekiel (3)

Ezek 40:3,4    I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. The man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the house of Israel everything you see.”

When I started off this series it was, I have come to realise, with a sense of naivety when I thought about one or two verses per book. To create meaning we have had to do far more than that, and now, as we find ourselves still in Ezekiel, we are about to embark on the most strange highlight in these studies, that which covers Ezekiel’s temple in chapter 40 onwards. Ezekiel I have characterised, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, as a mountain of prophecy, but perhaps a mountain range might be more appropriate and when you come to the end of the range, there you have this further ‘mountain’ covered in cloud and with a massive question mark over it.

Indeed this is going to be the strangest ‘meditation’ in this series for here is the thing about this part of Ezekiel:  First it is clearly dated as having come fourteen years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple within (40:1), second it is a vision (40:2), third in the vision Ezekiel sees in great detail the measurements of a temple (ch. 40-42),  fourth, more than once he is told to take great note of what he sees (40:4, 43:10,11 44:5), fifth, the glory of the Lord comes to this temple (ch.43), sixth the detail includes the priesthood and working within it (43:18-44:31, 45:9-24), seventh, there are details about apportioning the Land, layout and use of it (45:1-8, 47:15-48:35) and eighth,  IT WAS NEVER BUILT and these things never followed!

So the question arises, why were these nine chapters written down and never followed? What is the point of them being here? Why bother to read them? Let’s answer those in reverse order.

Why read them? We can only make suggestions. First we read then because for one reason or another they have been included in the canon of Scripture, first by the Jews who compiled the Old Testament scriptures, and second by the early church fathers who accepted it. Second, we might also add that within these chapters there are a number of passages with more details that exhort the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day to repent from their past and live out a new future, a continuation of the earlier parts of the book, if you like. Third, there is also a sense of holiness as the glory of the Lord is seen again, now filling this visionary temple, and with a general sense of holiness which comes through in these chapters.

What is the point of them being here?  Well, we may make several suggestions. First, in the day when the exile is well and truly under way, and the exiles have lost their temple, even though Ezekiel and Jeremiah have both prophesied restoration to the Land, this long, detailed section on the temple declares loud and clear, “God has NOT finished with His temple, His intent is still that He will dwell in the midst of His people.”  Second, they continue that sense of ‘heavenly otherness’ that is common to parts of Ezekiel, a challenge almost against humanistic thinking. We are left with questions that only God will answer. Third, they open up a whole new area of hope, for the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day, and the Jews of today. Why? Because the vision has not yet been fulfilled.

That leads us to think about the different ways these chapters can be seen. Commentators over the years have come up with a number of suggestions. First that this was never meant to be taken literally, that perhaps it is just meant to convey spiritual truths, or that it may even be a description of a heavenly temple. Second, that it should be taken literally which opens up the possibility that the people of Ezra’s time simply failed to build to this scale. The alternative is that it will yet be built in the future, maybe in the thousand year ‘millennium’ period of Rev 20:4 and you know the fun thing about all this – we just don’t know! What a challenge to those who feel insecure in their faith and feel they have to have everything neatly buttoned up and understood!

But let’s finish with a fairly brief reference to a beautiful few verses in chapter 47, the vision of the river flowing out of the Temple. It appears, first of all, flowing out from under the threshold of the temple (47:1). As it flowed it became a deeper and deeper river (47:3-6) and where it flowed down into the Dead Sea, it turned it into fresh water (47:8), and wherever it flows life bursts forth (47:9). On its banks fruit trees grow in abundance providing both food and healing (47:12). No interpretation is give and so we are just left to surmise for ourselves.

Whatever else it might say, it must speak of the life that flows out from the presence of the Lord, life that grows greater and greater the more it flows out, life that brings life, and life that transforms and changes that which is dead into a vibrant living environment. Two observations: first this flows from the presence of God portrayed by this temple in this vision. Second, this is the very life that flows forth from heaven through the Church today and even on a bigger scale through the kingdom of God in whatever form that is expressed – the blessing of God on earth.

And so a final question: does this mean that this long-winded picture of the temple is just God’s way of catching our attention to say, “I have a plan, a detailed plan of how I will bring my presence to the earth so that life can flow forth bringing transformation to this sin-weary world”? Does He further say, “I simply make the point that you will not fully understand it, but this plan is there and it will be fulfilled through my Son, Jesus Christ”?

Well, to get the most out of this study you are going to have to read chapters 40 to 48 so if you want to, copy, paste and print this study and keep it beside you as you read those chapters. You’ll only need half an hour and who knows what the Lord might pick out to speak to you. Be blessed.

41. Ezekiel (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 41.  Ezekiel (2)

Ezek 36:22    It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.

If we have struggled to choose a verse or verses in some of the earlier books, that difficulty is now multiplied many times over, for Ezekiel is one of the most complex and varied of the books of the Bible. In broad terms, chapters 1 to 24 speak about judgment against Judah and Jerusalem (but that comes in many varied forms, visions, acted out prophecy, words, etc.), chapters 25 to 32 are prophecies of judgment against other nations (and in this he is truly international in his vision), chapter 33 to 39 are a mix of prophecies, often consoling, and then chapter 40 to 47 are all about the importance of the temple. We’ll consider one element of that last section in the next meditation but for the moment we’ll take a word and a picture that summarises the nature of what is going on, from the penultimate section.

In chapter 36 we find this summary section, spoken by the Lord to Ezekiel. This particular part starts in verse 17: Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions.” This sums up the years of the life of Israel and Judah. The Lord had given them this Promised Land but down through the centuries, when they were supposed to be a people revealing God and the wonder of His ways to the rest of the world, instead they revealed the folly of the sin of mankind to the rest of the world. Instead of worshipping and revealing God, they defiled this holy land with idol worship.

That had a consequence: “So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions.” (36:18,19) That is so simple and straightforward it needs no further comment. It is then that we come across our verses above: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name….. will show the holiness of my great name…..  name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD….. when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.” (36:22,23) Nebuchadnezzar coming and destroying Jerusalem and deporting most of the people is all about this, showing the world that Israel were accountable to a holy God.

But then comes a tremendous word of hope: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (36:24-28) Wow! God will bring them back from exile with transformed hearts. They will be a transformed people. Read the verses again to take it all in. These verses run on to the end of the chapter, reinforcing the same promise of restoration. Amazing!

So much for the word; now to the prophetic vision, the vision of the valley of dry bones. Now what is strange about this is where it comes. It will ask a question of Jeremiah but, if this is in chronological order, he’s already been given the answer, so why the vision? The answer has to be either that it was given earlier than the word (and there are indicators that everything in Ezekiel is not in exact chronological order) OR (and I prefer this one) the Lord wants to test Jeremiah to see if he has taken it in and wants to involve him in it. See the vision.

The Lord shows him in a vision a valley full of dry human bones (37:1,2) and asks him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (v.3)  Well, initially, Jeremiah doesn’t know who or what these bones are and so he cautiously and wisely replies, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Smart answer! He might have surmised that in the light of all that had been happening that these bones must be Israel, but he didn’t want to jump to conclusions. Prophets don’t do that, they only bring what God reveals.

But then comes a strange instruction: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, `Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” (v.4,5) He is to speak God’s intent over these bones in this vision, and when he did so (v.7) all the bones came together as skeletons and then with flesh but no breath in them (v.7,8) The process is repeated (v.9,10) and the bodies stand up with life in them. Then the Lord explains that these represent Israel who, now in captivity, have lost all hope and that he, Ezekiel, is to prophesy to them what the Lord will do, raising them up again and giving them a new spirit (v.11-14).

So what have we seen in all the verses we have highlighted? First the Lord gave an extensive word about the restoration of the people to the Land, with a new heart and a new spirit, and then He reiterated it by means of the vision of the valley of dry bones, but with a new commission for Ezekiel to tell Israel in exile that this is what is going to happen.

So what lessons come through these verses? First, and quite obviously, a reiteration that all that is happening to Judah and Jerusalem is expressly the disciplinary judgment of God, brought about to end the decades, if not centuries, of idol worship that has polluted this land, a land that was supposed to be the holy home of a holy people revealing God to the nations. Second, they again make very clear that exile is not the end game for this people; the Lord WILL bring them back to the Land as a purged people.

But then we have to look at the nature of what happened here so, third, we see the Lord speaks a dramatic word but then reinforces it by a clear and vivid vision. So often the Lord brings His word more than once, and often in different forms, because He knows we struggle to take in new things. Fourth, we see the Lord involving Ezekiel in a faith activity, speaking God’s word over Israel. Again, so often it seems, the Lord wants us to join in His activities by speaking His will out loud into the situation. Perhaps it is His way in ensuring that this word will be heard and remembered after He has performed it, so we will realise it was truly Him. When it is spoken out beforehand, there can be no mistake of understanding afterwards. It seems the Lord delights in waiting for our faith to rise, so that we become actively involved in Father’s business which He then ratifies by doing it.

This last point, I believe, is important for many churches today who are content to perform ritual or ‘services’ and utter words of belief, but who rarely step out in faith by declaring or praying for substantial changes. Here is a challenge to lifeless orthodoxy. The ‘body of Christ’, the Church, is to be alive and active and achieving the works of God as inspired and empowered by Him. That’s what all these words have been about!

40. Ezekiel (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 40.  Ezekiel (1)

Ezek 1:28, 2:1,2    This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

When we arrive at Ezekiel we are confronted by what is arguably the strangest chapter in the Bible. I have covered this chapter in detail in a previous series we started on Ezekiel and so we will only cover it in a general sweep here. Chapter 1 introduces us to Ezekiel, a priest (1:3), one of the exiles taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (1:1,2), who starts seeing visions about 593BC.

I cannot always help comparing what follows to the incredible clouds that accompany the coming of the aliens in the film Independence Day. It is a dramatic storm appearance with bright light at its centre (1:4) and he then sees what turn out to be four angelic beings (1:5-14) later to be identified as cherubim (10:1,2). With them come the famous “wheels within wheels” (1:15-21) later to be referred to as “the whirling wheels” (10:13). Previously I have summarised this as follows: the wheels were in total harmony with the four creatures. Wheels of course speak of transport and movement and if the presence of wings was not enough, the presence of these big wheels emphasises even more that the angelic presence  is all about coming and going from heaven to earth and back again, conveying the will of God.

Following this we are told that above these four living creatures was ‘an expanse’ (1:22), above which was a throne (1:26) on which was seated a human figure, but much more than a mere human figure (1:26,27) surrounded by multi-coloured brilliance (1:28a). It is at that comes the first part of our three starting verses: “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” (1:28b)

In other words the whole of chapter 1 comes as a preamble to the actual calling of Ezekiel. Whereas in Isaiah the heavenly vision was limited to four verses, here the vision fills an entire chapter and Ezekiel identifies what he sees as “the glory of the Lord” and so incredible, so powerful is this weird picture that we find, “When I saw it, I fell facedown.” (1:28:c) It may be that this was from awe but in what follows the implication was that all his energy drained away and he collapsed.

Now we come to his first encounter with the Lord: “and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (1:28d) As we go into chapter 2 we find first of all an instruction, “Son of man, stand up on your feet,” and then a reason, “and I will speak to you.” It would appear that the Lord did not want him to be a quivering wreck on the floor but as His representative who would receive from Him face to face.  To help him do that (and this is why I suggested all his energy had left him), “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet.”  It is the power of the Spirit that raised him up.

Then the Lord speaks to him and gives him his ministry instructions: “He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.” (2:3,4)  This is remarkably like the warning given to Jeremiah but this should not surprise it, because they were to go to the same people!

Having observed all this, we might now ask, why do you think the Lord gave Ezekiel this vision whereas He gave Isaiah a much briefer insight into heaven, and Jeremiah no such insight? Well, let’s consider again Ezekiel’s position. Whereas Jeremiah’s ministry was carried out in the security of Jerusalem, despite the opposition we received there, it was relatively secure. Ezekiel, however, has been carried away by Nebuchadnezzar’s army to Babylon with all the accompanying trauma. Ezekiel came from a priestly family and when he had been carried away in that first ‘deportation batch’ with Jehoiachin in 593BC (1:2) he had no idea whether he had any future left. Five years passed (1:2) and it appears he was now age thirty (1:1). Now thirty was the age that a young man of a priestly family would take up his duties and so at the time when this vision comes, he is living in a foreign land, living with the disappointment that if he had still been back in Jerusalem he would just be starting his priestly ministry in the Temple in Jerusalem, but there is no hope of that now.

Imagine you are the son or daughter of a very wealthy businessman who, throughout your younger years, has been promising that when you are thirty he will hand the CEO  role over to you, but then when you are twenty five you are kidnapped and deported, sold as a slave on the opposite side of the world in a country where you have no resources and are utterly reliant upon your captors. How would you be feeling? Helpless and hopeless. There is nothing you can do to change your situation and to all outward appearances you have no future. If there is to be a change, it has to be pretty dramatic. This is Ezekiel – and it is dramatic!

Ezekiel is going to become God’s mouthpiece to the Israelite exiles and, even more, his words are obviously going to get back to Jerusalem to back up all that Jeremiah is saying back there. Why? “And whether they listen or fail to listen–for they are a rebellious house–they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (2:5)  There is the same thing we said about Jeremiah’s ministry. It’s not about whether he manages to turn the hearts of the people (for he won’t), it’s about being God’s witness against this people so that all of history will see and know. Hence his instruction, “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.” (2:7) These words will be written down and they will be a testimony against Israel and the next generation will read them and know the truth and repent so that in forty years after the fall of Jerusalem they will be ready to come back, a purged people.

So Ezekiel receives this incredible vision (and there is more of it in chapter ten) which refocuses all of his thinking and overrides all of any potential fear or anxieties he might have as an exile, and he will be focused on his one goal – to speak God’s words to God’s people. The glory of the Lord – which represents the very presence of God will become a key feature in this book as it goes on. Like no other prophet he is aware of the movement of God in His dealings with the holy city.

For 99.99% of us, we are unlikely to have such a vision because we will not have such a calling, but God will speak to us and the question has to be, will we obey what we hear? It seems that God uses two major things to turn human thinking: either a dramatic vision, such as that in chapter 1 (which is rare) or catastrophe or upheaval, which is far more common. We get such things depending on God’s calling or our stubbornness, but whatever form comes, it will always be the loving God bringing what He knows is best for us, best to bring us into a good place with Him.

11. Action Parts 2 & 3

Meditations from Ezekiel: 11.  Action Parts 2 & 3

Ezek 4:9    “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.

Recap: So we have seen this new prophet being instructed to go to his home and make a picture-model of Jerusalem under siege and he is to lie on his side prophesying against it for a little over twelve months before lying on his other side and doing the same for a little over a month.  The message will be quite clear and the other exiles round about will hear and the word will spread – most likely back to Jerusalem. But that was only Part 1 of the big picture of what will happen.

Part 2 – Famine: Then come instructions of what he is to eat and drink during this time: Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” (v.9-12) Put very simply, these are bare existence rations and the Lord then explains, “The LORD said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.” (v.13)

This is a challenge to all they have known in the past and Ezekiel revolts against the idea: “Then I said, “Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth.” “Very well,” he said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement.” (v.14,15) The Lord relents and allows a marginally better situation. “He then said to me: “Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin.” (v.16,17) What we have been reading is warning of famine conditions that will come to Jerusalem when it is under siege. The warning is very clear.

Part 3 – Destruction: There is yet a third part of all this to be conveyed to the exiles via Ezekiel’s acted out pictures. “Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair.” (5:1) This, we will soon see comes at the end of the siege. He is to cut his hair and use it in various ways to demonstrate what will happen to the people. His hair represents the people of Jerusalem. “When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair with fire inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword.” (v.2) A third of it is to be burnt on the tablet portraying Jerusalem, and a third is to be struck with a sword and a third scattered to the wind. Again there will be a few strands to be saved and tucked in the fold of his garment and yet even of those a few will be burned up. “But take a few strands of hair and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. Again, take a few of these and throw them into the fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to the whole house of Israel.” (v.3,4)

Fulfillment: At the latter part of the book of Jeremiah we see Jeremiah and a small remnant being saved (see Jer 39:11-40:6) Yet there was still upset among the survivors and more died (Jer 41) and some fled while others stayed with Jeremiah in the surroundings of the city but still they rejected God’s word through Jeremiah and decided to leave for Egypt but Jeremiah prophesied their destruction there by Nebuchadnezzar still. (see Jer 43,44). In the final part of Jeremiah, in the historical section, we find record of the two year siege of Jerusalem (Jer 52:4,5) and we read, “By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat.” (Jer 52:6) and thus the word about famine was fulfilled. In the accounts that followed we see those who fled the city, the fire that destroyed the city and those who died there, and those who were carried away into exile.

Explanation: Then comes the first real ‘word’ that comes from the Lord that explains why all this will happen: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees. “Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” (Ezek 5:5-7) Observe.

First note, “Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.” (v.5) In Isaiah’s words, the Lord had made Jerusalem to be a light to the nations, revealing Him and His plans for the earth.

Second, the people of Jerusalem had again and against forsaken the Lord: “she has rebelled against my laws and decrees.”  It will be because of that that they will be answerable to the Lord and everything here follows.

But, even worse, third, they had been worse than the pagan nations around them!  “more than the nations and countries around her…. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” Such is the effect of Sin in the world. Because of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, they could never say they had not known.

Historical Context: As we come to the end of these verses, can we hold on to the big picture that is here. The Lord has spoken to Israel and to the leaders in Jerusalem again and again and again through the prophetic word and they have not heeded Him but continued deeper and deeper into idolatry. The Lord watches and sees there is no turning their hearts. Some three or four years back from this point, Nebuchadnezzar had come against Jerusalem a second time (the first being in 605BC when Daniel and his friends were taken into exile) and we are now somewhere about the middle of Zedekiah’s ten year reign in Jerusalem. Zedekiah is there courtesy of Nebuchadnezzar but he is foolish and thinks he can rebel against him and get away with it. The writing, as we say, was on the wall, quite plainly, but still Israel’s sin persists. The fact is that we are part of this foolish human race and although we may be redeemed we can still get it wrong. May these accounts of this period of history make us even more determined to not let ourselves drift away from the Lord in any way.

9. The Watchman

Meditations from Ezekiel: 9.  The Watchman

Ezek 3:16,17    At the end of seven days the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.

A Watchman: Chapter 1 was strange by the fact of strange revelations of beings in heaven. The verses in the rest of chapter 3 are strange by what they say about Ezekiel. It starts off easily enough as we see above. In the first stage of what follows the Lord tells Ezekiel that he will be a watchman. That is a simple enough concept. A watchman was simply someone who stood on the high point of the walls of a city and kept watch and warned the authorities as soon as he saw anyone approaching in the distance. OK, Ezekiel is going to warn Israel when the Lord shows him what is coming. Simple enough. But then He spells out the responsibilities of that task.

Responsibilities: Verses 18 to 21 state the responsibility that the Lord will lay on Ezekiel. This is a serious task. This is all about accountability: When I say to a wicked man, `You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.” (v.18) Ezekiel is going to be God’s messenger  boy and so if God sends a message to a wicked person that they will die, He does it with the desire that that person will repent and live, and so if Ezekiel doesn’t pass the message on and the man dies in his sin, the Lord will hold Ezekiel accountable for that. “But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.” (v.19) It is always possible that the wicked man will hear the message and refuse to repent and will die, but Ezekiel will have discharged his duty and that is fine, at least as far as Ezekiel is concerned.

Now this can get quite complex: “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself.” (v.20,21) In other words it is always possible for a righteous person to ‘fall off the tracks’ and if he does that, God will put things before him to hold him accountable which may result in his death if he continues. Ezekiel needs to warn this man as well and there are consequences for failure as well as success.

God’s Ultimate Desire: Perhaps one of the major and overall lessons that comes out in this book, is that each person is responsible for their own actions, and this is worked out in more detail in chapter 18.  The three important verses of that chapter are, “if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die,” (18:21) and “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (18:23) and “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (18:32) The role of God’s watchman, therefore, is to bring a word of challenge in order that repentance may follow – which is God’s desire always. The word that comes is NOT merely to condemn, (although that will be the outcome if repentance fails to come) but to give opportunity for repentance so that life may follow.

Encounter on the Plain:  So Ezekiel is to be a watchman. Where does that start: “The hand of the LORD was upon me there, and he said to me, “Get up and go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you.” (v.22) It isn’t on a city wall but out in a plain in Babylon. “So I got up and went out to the plain. And the glory of the LORD was standing there, like the glory I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown” (v.23) A sense of deja-vu here. He is shown again the glory of the Lord and again the sense of it renders him helpless and he falls down. Again the power  of the Lord comes on him: “Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: “Go, shut yourself inside your house.” (v.24) So he’s started to hear from the Lord, this watchman, but he’s told to shut himself away! A strange way to start a ministry of watching, except he is not watching for physical people. He’s watching to hear from the Lord.

Restricted and Limited: Now comes the even more strange bit: “And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people.” (v.25) Possibility 1: the ‘they’ refers to his own countrymen. Why might they tie him up? To control madness?  Possible but slightly unlikely and there is no other evidence to suggest that. Possibility 2: the ‘they’ refers to the angelic beings in the vision that he is still experiencing. i.e. that heaven will render him powerless so that he cannot leave his house.

This, I suggest, is more likely in the light of what follows: “I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, though they are a rebellious house.” (v.26) i.e. God will stop him expressing his natural tendency to blast these exiles with a pounding of holy indignation. No, “But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ Whoever will listen let him listen, and whoever will refuse let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house” (v.27) i.e. you will only speak my words when you are spoken to.

Initially this all seems a little strange but the more you look at it, the more sense it makes. A prophet is to be a mouthpiece for God and therefore he is ONLY to speak WHEN God speaks. In the same way as we saw the four living creatures and their wheels move very rapidly to do the bidding of the one on the throne – and not to move until that bidding comes – so will Ezekiel be.  Being a watchman for God means listening for God and saying nothing until God’s word comes.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19)  It is the principle we have been observing here in Ezekiel and it is one for us to follow also.

8. Feeling with God

Meditations from Ezekiel: 8.  Feeling with God

Ezek 2:8-10   Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.

The down side of Ezekiel’s ministry: There is a danger as we read these chapters to get caught up with the awfulness of Ezekiel’s mission. In chapters 2 and 3 he is told eight times that Israel are a rebellious people and twice the Lord speaks of them as obstinate and the reason for that is that they have become hardened. And he is told to go to speak to this people. It is a pretty bleak future! Four times he is told not to be afraid of the people and three times he is told to speak to them regardless of whether they listen or fail to listen.

Take in the Word: But at the end of 2:8 the command comes, open your mouth and eat what I give you.” We then see what God is referring to: “Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.” (2:9,10) The command to eat is reiterated: “And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.” (3:1,2) Then a third time, “Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (3:3)

Remember, this is still all within the vision but what have we seen? A scroll written on both sides (a substantial message) with “words of lament and mourning and woe.” If this is the message Ezekiel is going to have to bring – and we must assume it is – then he is to be the bringer of bad news. Now in the bigger view of the book there are ‘good news’ sections about Israel’s future but the main emphasis – in calling for repentance – is going to be on bad news, the awful things that will happen to Israel and to Jerusalem IF they do not repent. Why will there be this emphasis? Because the Lord know Israel will NOT repent and so His disciplinary and terminal judgment will fall on Israel and upon Jerusalem, and for the inhabitants, that will be very bad news!

Taken to his people: The Lord reassures him that he is only going to his own people, the people of his language who will understand his words (v.4-6) but they will not listen because they are hardened by sin (v.7) but He will make Ezekiel as hard as they are in the bringing of his ministry to them (v.8,9).  He reiterates His call for Ezekiel to go and speak to them (v.10,11) and he then hears sounds of the movement of the creatures (v.12,13) – they are obviously moving on in the will of God – and he found, “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River.” (v.14,15) It is now time for Ezekiel to settle with his people and the Holy Spirit empowers him and directs him (no doubt to walk) from his present location near this irrigation canal to a more populated site where his people were.

Feeling with God: Notice he goes “in bitterness and in the anger” of his spirit. When he had eaten the scroll of mourning it had tasted sweet – God’s word always does initially – but as he absorbs it and takes in all the Lord has been saying, it leaves him feeling bitter and angry. Bitter simply means distressed by all he has heard. He is angry because of the folly of his people and in this he identifies with the feelings of the Lord. The word of God that he has eaten, taken in and digested, devastates him: “And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days–overwhelmed.” (3:15b) The whole experience and particularly what he has seen and heard, overwhelms him and he sits in silence for a week.

Personal Testimony: Now as I have prayed over this passage this morning, I have been reminded of something that happened many years ago. I was feeling anxious about someone my wife and I knew and I commented to my wife, “I think I am feeling as the Lord feels for her.” My wife initially suggested we couldn’t feel as God feels and over the next three days we discussed this until the evening of the church’s prayer meeting. There, half way through, one of the ladies in the group brought what I believe to have been the most amazing revelation that was, I suppose, a combination of word of knowledge and prophecy. In it the Lord used the literal words my wife and I had been using in our conversations over the previous three days, and concluded, “And you can feel my heart.” A number of months later, a national prophet visited our church and prophesied over me, “And you shall know my heart and convey it to my people.” Do I believe we can feel as God feel? Yes, I do!

Bringing Personal Prophecy: Now Ezekiel’s word was a word of doom. Our word, unless we are moving at a very significant ministry level is, in this period of grace, a word of love and acceptance that is available to people. I have summed it up for the last twenty-five years as “God loves you exactly as you are, but He loves you so much that He has something better for you than you have at present.” There have been times when I have encountered people whose lives I felt left much to be desired and although I wanted to bring words that demanded repentance, the Lord would only allow me to bring words of acceptance and, to my surprise, they brought tears and repentance!  God is much better at convicting people than we are and our role is to hold open the door of the kingdom of heaven and if people reject it, that is down to them and they will be answerable to God. But they may just go through the door.

Ezekiel & Jeremiah’s ‘Partnership’: Ezekiel has a unique ministry. In Jerusalem Jeremiah is prophesying and demanding repentance. He has been doing it for a number of years and will continue up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel is his support ministry from Babylon. Jeremiah is more concerned with getting the people to repent before Jerusalem is destroyed, but the people reject his words and it is destroyed. Ezekiel is one of the exiles in Babylon and for the time being he will join in the calls to repent and bring warnings of destruction, but after the destruction has taken place, we will see, he becomes a messenger of hope for Israel in exile.

Prophesying for the long-term: The destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of 99% of Israel is not the end of the people, but there will still be a work to do in getting their hearts changed to be prepared to be able to go back decades later to rebuild the city, rebuild the temple and rebuild the people. Hard they may be now, but how much will Ezekiel’s words be used to change their hearts in the long-term, so that in decades to come they will be in a fit state to return to the Land?  This is a long-term calling.