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!