Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Wednesday, January 1st

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Genesis 1-2, Psalm 1, Matthew 1
Today's scripture focus is Ezekiel 1:1-3

Happy New Year everyone!  I'm excited about starting the new year by digging into more books of the Bible with you.  I'm still working on the study plan and will post it shortly - but the books we are studying include Ezekiel, Titus, Daniel, Ephesians, Genesis, Mark and more.

For those new to our blog, our format for the past couple of years has been to have a scripture focus - the passage will be anywhere from several verses to an entire chapter in length.  We post the scripture for the day and then discuss our thoughts about the passage or something we've learned about the passage in our own study.  I try to find and post at least one or two online sermon series or commentaries we can use for reference during our study.  We also have a daily scripture passage to read for those who would like to read through the Bible in one year - this is optional.  Another option is to rather read 3 - 4 chapters a day of the book we are studying more indepth, and to read it over and over until our study on that book is completed.  If you have any questions, or would like to be a contributing poster, let me know!

With that being said - it's time to kick off the New Year with Ezekiel!

Ezekiel 1:1-3

English Standard Version (ESV)

Ezekiel in Babylon

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.

Accompanying sermon by Robert Rayburn
Accompanying sermon by David Legge: The Man and the Message

The first few verses of Ezekiel introduce us to the man chosen by God to proclaim His message to His people, and to write this book named for its author.

It is widely agreed that the thirtieth year (in v1) refers to Ezekiel's age when he received his prophetic call.  He would have been 25 when taken captive during the second of three deportations of Jews from Judea to Babylon (v2).  The first deportation occurred in 605BC when Babylon deported the most gifted of Judean's population, including Daniel, in order to ensure their loyalty.  The second deportation occurred in 597BC when King Jehoiakim foolishly went against the council of Jeremiah and rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar.  The King had Jehoiakim dragged to Babylon and executed, then set up his son Jehoiachim as King.  Jehoiachim, along with the royal family, was brought to Babylon in the second deportation along with 10,000 captives from the upper levels of society, leaving only the poorest behind (2 Kings 24:14).  Ezekiel and his wife were included in these 10,000 captives.

Ezekiel tells us that his prophetic call came to him in his 30th year....Ezekiel was 30 years of age when this happened. That means he would have been born just a year or so before the law book was discovered in the temple during Josiah’s reforms. As the son of a priest, he would have been an eyewitness of those reforms and of King Josiah’s piety and his support for the renewal of Israel’s faith and worship. When he was barely a teenager Josiah was killed in battle and the reforming movement was abandoned. As he grew up and prepared through his 20s for his calling as a priest, he was probably one of very few who took that calling seriously.

The fact that he was 30 when God called him would have had for him a melancholy significance, easily recognized by any Jewish reader, because it was at 30 years of age that a priest would undertake his formal duties (Num. 4:3). It was then that Ezekiel, as his father before him, would have entered into his service at the temple – service for which he had been preparing himself since the time he was a young man – but, of course, he wasn’t any longer in Jerusalem and could not and would never serve as a priest there. All the preparations of his life would have seemed for naught, until suddenly the Lord revealed different plans for this man.

Ezekiel the priest, became Ezekiel the prophet.

His book follows a similar format to other OT prophets.  Rayburn explains:
First, Israel and Judah are to suffer God’s wrath for their infidelity to him and to his covenant. Second, the nations of the world – some of whom God has used as his instruments to punish his people Israel – will likewise be judged. The fact that Israel is guilty of falsehood toward God and rebellion against him, the fact that God’s own people counted his love and covenant small things and rejected him for the world around them, did not mean that the nations were, for that reason innocent. Yahweh was never the God of Israel alone. It is everywhere the assumption, if it is not in any place the direct teaching, of the books of the Old Testament that Yahweh is the creator of heaven and earth, the ruler of all that is, and the only living and true God. He is as much, therefore, the God of the Babylonians as he is of the Israelites and the preference in Israel for gods of her own making is a sin only more egregious by degrees than the idolatry of the nations. No OT prophet imagines that Yahweh is not as much in control of what is happening among the nations of the world as he is of what is happening to Israel and no prophet imagines that his moral judgment will not be applied to the nations as it has been and will be to Israel. Third, and finally, the struggle of faith in this world is worth all the effort it requires precisely because there is a gloriously happy ending to the story of biblical faith in this world. God will vindicate his faithful people and in due time, when history is brought to a close, the church will come once and for all and forever into its full rights as the people of God and will see what glorious things God has in store for those who love him. This is, of course, the entire Bible’s three-fold message: the absolute necessity of faith in Christ and a life of fidelity to himin the church; the summons to all nations to enter the church by living faith in Christ, and the promise of eternal reward for those who do.

The fact is, most of Judea dragged their spiritual baggage along with them to Babylon.  Years of idolatry and apostasy had brought her to ruin, yet they could not recognize that they were responsible for their own demise.

Legge asserts that they had deluded themselves with false assurances....

Prophets of judgement come. Prophets of righteousness come and declare God's judgement: God's wrath will be poured out upon the people of God - and the people of God object and say: 'But we are God's chosen people, we are God's elect. God cannot judge us. Some say God's holy city cannot be destroyed. We dwell in Jerusalem, and you as a prophet come and tell us that enemies of God - Babylon - will come and sack the city and burn it? That can never happen! The temple of God dwells within Jerusalem, and the temple of God is the symbol of God's presence with His own people. Are you telling me that God would let our enemies come into the chosen city of God and destroy it?'....

they could recognise that they were God's chosen. They could recognise that they, out of all the races of the earth, were most blessed, and all the other races of the earth would be blessed through them. They recognised they had all the promises of God, but what they could not bring themselves to recognise was their own sin. In failure to recognise their sin, they failed to recognise the holy God that they were called to serve. They continued sinning, and as they continued to sin they assumed that God's smile would always be upon them no matter what they did because they were God's people, because they were in the covenant of promise, because God had shone on them in days gone by. They felt that they were secure, that they couldn't be moved from the firm foundation of Zion. That false assurance was further cemented in their mind by the false prophets who came along too. They simply agreed with that mindset. They preached: 'Peace, peace', when there was no peace....

What was Israel's mistake? Their mistake was they failed to grasp the abominable nature of sin, and the terrible holiness of God almighty. We are saved, and I believe very strongly in the eternal security of the believer, but do you know something? If any doctrine that we have and believe and hold onto dearly becomes a cloak of false security, of a false assurance that will make us numb to sin and numb to the holiness of God, we must beware! If anything in our lives makes us numb to the awfulness of sin, and to the goodness and the righteousness of God, there may be something wrong with the balance in our doctrine. For the consequence, as we look at the prophet Ezekiel, is this: that if we do not realise the awfulness of our sin and the holiness of our God, we will cause the glory of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, His fullness - if you want to say, the candlestick of the Lord Jesus Christ within His church - there is the danger that we cause the glory to depart. Along with the departing of that glory there is a forfeit of reward....

Ezekiel was more than a prophet of judgement because he brought hope to God's people. First of all, he brought judgement to them, but at the end of all the judgements that he pronounces upon the people of God, and then upon the Gentile nations round about them, there is a message of great hope. There is a message of reconciliation, a message of reconstruction of the nation of Israel, of the temple of Israel, of the city of Jerusalem. But the reason why Ezekiel's message was so unpopular was that he brought a message of hope that rested upon the completion of Israel's repentance...

So we find Judah in Babylon. We find them singing the Psalm,
Psalm 137: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?". Away from Jerusalem, away from God's physical, visible presence upon the earth, Israel are separated from all that they know to be a closeness and a nearness to God - here they are in Babylon! But isn't it amazing that, while this remnant of Judah sits by the rivers singing depressing songs, ...this man Ezekiel is seeing visions of God. Ezekiel sits by the river Chebar and he sees the Shekinah glory of God leave the temple of Jerusalem. He sees that glory follow the people of Judah throughout their pilgrimage, right down to the land of captivity in Babylon. There they are - God's people and God's prophet in the midst of captivity and bondage - he is seeing that very Shekinah glory of God...

Ezekiel was called in his ministry to much personal and painful suffering. He was called to live out his message. He was called to demonstrate it in his very life....Ezekiel was made dumb. He couldn't speak - and God did that! God ordered him on one occasion to lie on his side as a demonstration to the people of what they were like and who they were facing, and who they were turning to for help. He lived on loathsome food and God, again and again and again, commanded him to do these symbolic acts in order to get the attention of his own people. He was told to shave his head .. and shave his beard - humiliation. He was told to act like someone fleeing from war. He was told on one occasion to sit and just sigh to himself. Then when his dear wife died that he loved so well, and as it coincided with the final demolishing of the city of Jerusalem that it was meant to illustrate, that man of God was told: 'Today you're wife has died, and today you shall not shed a tear'.

It wasn't easy being a prophet of God. I hope you can see the parallel of the age that Ezekiel lived in and preached in, and the age that we live and we seek to preach in. The message has not changed - the message is that they that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. The message is that it is a hard thing to be a holy man, to be a holy woman, to be a holy teenager. It's hard. It's difficult. Everything is against you. This world system opposes you in every way that it can, and if you seek to follow God with all your heart and preach the message that God has delivered, you will suffer for it. In fact the only thing, perhaps, that we are promised is persecution. But isn't it wonderful to hear from the lovely lips of our Lord: 'Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake'.

Lots of toe stepping going on here!
Have we deluded ourselves?
Have we taken our status as God's children for granted and presumed upon His grace?
Have we lost sight of the holiness of God?
Have we lost sight of the awfulness of our sin?
Have we lost the desire to see God's glory?
Are we willing to live for God even when it's hard?
Are we willing to go against the flow?
Are we willing to be holy no matter the cost?
Are we self aware of our spiritual condition?

I love Rayburn's concluding thoughts in his sermon:
The spiritual condition of the exiles when they were first deported to Babylon was miserable. We know that from the biblical histories and from Jeremiah as well as from Ezekiel. Through at least the early period of his ministry their hearts continued to remain hard to the Word of God. But decades later, when the opportunity arose to return to the Promised Land, more than 40,000 Jews did so – leaving behind in Babylon a significant measure of prosperity and comfort for the uncertainty and difficulty of the long journey westward and the task of rebuilding ruined Jerusalem (Ezra 2:1-70). What is clear in Ezra is that these returning exiles had a spiritual mind and a commitment to serve the Lord. What accounts for the remarkable turnaround? Is there a more likely explanation than the ministry of this one man, Ezekiel, whose ministry turned the spiritual tide among the exiles and prepared the way for the reconstruction of the people of God after the exile? 

If the ministry of Ezekiel could have such a dramatic and wonderful effect, turning round a moribund and lifeless church and injecting it with new faith and zeal, then let us pray that it may have a similar effect upon us as we study it together in the weeks and months to come.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Ezekiel 1:1-28
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Genesis 3-4, Psalm 2, Matthew 2

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