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.

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24. To Jeremiah (2)

“God turned up” Meditations: 24 :  To Jeremiah (2)

Jer 32:6-8   Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, `Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’ “Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, `Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin.

In all these studies on God turning up, as we’ve noted before, the Lord turns up in a variety of ways, but as the Bible develops it seems the most common way is that He comes and simply speaks directly to one of His servants, especially to the prophets who by their very nature had an ear open to God. In the previous meditation we saw the Lord coming to Jeremiah to call him to his ministry. Now there could be a dozen times where we could see the Lord turning up and giving Jeremiah a message, but this one seems a particularly significant example of God’s word coming.

To catch the significance of this episode we need to note what went immediately before it: This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.” (Jer 32:1,2) So here is Jerusalem under siege, with all the surrounding country taken by Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah gets a warning from the Lord that his cousin would come and offer to sell him some of the family land outside the city. Now don’t be under any illusion that Jeremiah thought the present siege was going to turn out all right, because he had just prophesied to king Zedekiah, “This is what the LORD says: I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will capture it. Zedekiah king of Judah will not escape out of the hands of the Babylonians but will certainly be handed over to the king of Babylon.” (v.3,4)

So Jeremiah knows that the future is that Jerusalem will be taken and the land devastated by Nebuchadnezzar. What is interesting is that Jeremiah doesn’t say that the Lord told him to buy the land, merely that He had warned Jeremiah. Jeremiah obviously took it that the Lord was inviting him to buy the family land – in the face of impending doom. This is to be an act of faith in respect of the Lord’s plans for Israel obviously!

Jeremiah steps out in accordance with the warning from the Lord and when his cousin comes he does buy the land and goes through all the legal formalities so that there will be no question in anyone’s mind about the authenticity of this sale for he said, “I knew that this was the word of the LORD.” (v.8) .

Indeed at the end of the formalities we read, “I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard. “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: `This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” (v.12-15)  That was quite an amazing prophecy there at the end. So often Jeremiah was accused of negative speaking, but this is very positive. It says the Lord has plans for the future of Israel after Nebuchadnezzar.

Note what follows: “After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah, I prayed to the LORD:” (v.16) What follows is a wonderful prayer declaring God’s greatness in all His deeds. Following this comes a further word from the Lord which includes, “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” (v.37,38) and then a reiteration that fields and land will again be sold in the land. There is a remarkable clarity in this prophecy: yes, Israel will be taken into exile, but the Lord will eventually bring them back to this land and restore them.

What we have seen is Jeremiah being invited to step out in trust in the Lord and buy land which appeared worthless at present, as a sign that there was yet a future for Israel there. Jeremiah would not see it, but it would come. Once he acted in faith, the Lord confirmed His word to Jeremiah, a remarkable promise about the future. A simple lesson here?  Sometimes we need to step out in faith on fairly minor revelation before the bigger revelation is given. Faith as big as a mustard seed releases greater things. Let’s not despise the small acts of faith for they can lead to much bigger things. Has the Lord invited you to step out in a small way? Go for it, for it may open the way to something much greater.