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    Aug 03, 2014

    Class 22: Ezekiel

    Series: Old Testament Overview

    Category: Core Seminars, Idolatry, Bible Prophecy, Nature of God, The Glory of God, The Holiness of God, The Holy Spirit, The Wrath of God, Work of Christ, Covenants, Indwelling Sin

    Detail:

    INTRODUCING EZEKIEL

     

    A few weeks ago, we heard Isaiah warn Judah’s King Hezekiah about the Assyrian army, while assuring him of God’s care. Last week, we heard the prophet Jeremiah, who lived a century after Isaiah, urge Judah and Jerusalem to follow the Lord’s direction by surrendering to the Babylonian army.  This morning, we encounter the prophet Ezekiel who lived at the same time as Jeremiah, but whose ministry was actually set in exile in Babylon.  Let’s start off with a quick biographical sketch of Ezekiel, and an overview of the structure of the book.

     

    The Babylonians carted Israelites off to exile in Babylon in several waves, and Ezekiel was among the earlier waves. He probably traveled to Babylon in 597 b.c., along with the royal family and other leading citizens of Jerusalem. Remember, Jerusalem was not entirely destroyed until a decade later. Ezekiel had been trained as a priest in Jerusalem, and he knew the religious life of his people well. Perhaps he’d even heard Jeremiah preach in Jerusalem before he was taken away. But once in exile away from the temple, it may have looked like this priest had no future serving God’s people. After all, a priest’s work was tied up with the temple. That’s an important question.  Will God still be with his people in exile?  And that’s the question God prepared this young priest to answer.

     

    This book has been regarded as so strange that Jewish rabbis would often not allow young men to read it until they were thirty years old.  But it’s really not that hard to understand. Let me give you a quick overview before we dive in. Ezekiel’s structure is even clearer than Isaiah’s or Jeremiah’s. It falls into two halves. In the first twenty-four chapters, the Lord tells his people that the Babylonians will destroy Jerusalem. The climax occurs in chapter 24 when word comes to Ezekiel that the siege has begun. Then chapters 25 to 48 turn to hope. They begin with condemnations of the surrounding nations, specifically, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, and Egypt. Then in 33:21, word arrives that Jerusalem has fallen.  From that point, Ezekiel prophesies about hope and restoration for God’s people. The book largely occurs in chronological order, and Ezekiel’s prophesies stretch over a two decade period—from around 593 to 571 b.c.

     

    On top of this chronology, God gives Ezekiel three sequences of visions, and if you understand these, you’ll understand the book. The first sequence occurs in chapters 1-3, where Ezekiel, now in Babylon, sees God coming to him in a vision. The second sequence occurs in chapters 8-11. It’s a flashback, as it were, in which God shows Ezekiel how his presence departed from Jerusalem because of the idolatrous worship being practiced in the temple. The book then concludes with a long vision sequence in chapters 40-48 when God returns to his people in a rebuilt temple.

     

    So that’s Ezekiel in a nutshell.  For the rest of our time, I want us to follow the three sequences of visions the Lord gave to Ezekiel.  We can summarize these three visions as:  A Vision of God the King; A Vision of God’s Departure; and A Vision of God’s Coming and the Promise of Paradise.

     

    A VISION OF GOD THE KING

    First, a vision of God the King.  Have you ever seen a child do something wrong and then receive a “time out” in the corner for punishment? The Babylonian exile was like a big time out for God’s people. He gave them a time out from the land, the throne, and the temple, all of which they had begun to misunderstand and even idolize. The Promised Land, the Davidic line of the kings, and the temple (which symbolized God’s presence) were all good gifts from him. But the people had misused them. The gifts became too important. So God took them away by calling his people out to Babylon. He set them aside for seventy years so that they could refocus on what was important and why.

     

    So let’s think about this setting a bit.  What do you think God’s people were thinking as they sat there in exile?

     

    The amazing truth of Ezekiel is that God actually went with his people into exile.  And that’s how Ezekiel’s vision begins.  With God coming to his people apart from the temple, the line of David, or the land of Israel.

     

    God appears to Ezekiel in an extraordinary opening vision, which begins with the words, “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.” (1:1).

     

    The vision itself begins with a mighty wind:

    “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.  And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness,  but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. ” (1:4-6).

     

    As the vision continues, we see some very bizarre creatures surrounding God’s throne:

    “Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose.” (1:15-19).

     

    After further description of these creatures, a voice sounds out overhead. And then the throne itself appears:

    “And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.  And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.  And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.” (1:25-28).

     

    Let’s pull out five observations about God from this vision.

     

    God’s Not Like Us

     

    Many people have tried to draw—literally illustrate—what this vision must have looked like to Ezekiel. But that’s probably an impossible task. And that’s the whole point.  What Ezekiel could see in this vision was that God is not like us. He is strange, other, and different than we are. Often, we assume God is just like us. But Ezekiel’s vision let’s us see how God is an entirely different being than we are. We cannot simply make him over in our own image. He is unusual.

     

    Ezekiel did not hesitate to describe everything he did see, but notice how often he used the words “appearance” and “as it were.” It was “the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire,” and below the figure’s apparent waist, it looked “as it were the appearance of fire.”

     

    The Bible calls God “holy.” And it’s not that he just possesses holiness; he is holy. Therefore, we must show reverence to God. Ezekiel himself fell face down, even after all his theological training! His new knowledge of God did not make him feel more casual about God at all. He is awed by this vision of God, like Job was awed when he had a vision of God.

     

    God’s All-Powerful and All-Wise

    We see here, too, that God is all-powerful and all-wise. Perhaps you noticed that the rims of the wheels are covered with eyes (1:18). And the four faces look in every direction (1:6,10,17). These things show God’s omniscience—he sees everywhere. There is nothing he does not perceive. He is all-knowing. And the fact that God can be on this chariot that moves in all directions shows that he is all-powerful. He can be in any place. Ezekiel could trust this all-powerful and all-wise God!

     

    God’s Not Limited by Circumstances

    But the real point for Ezekiel was that he was seeing God at all. After all, he was not in Jerusalem or in the temple. He was in exile when he had a vision of God Almighty! God is not limited to Jerusalem. The vision assured Ezekiel that God would be with his people wherever they were scattered. Indeed, God is not limited to any one place. He has a concern for the whole world, as the rainbow in verse 28, recalling God’s covenant with Noah for the whole world, reminds us.

     

    God Takes the Initiative

    Notice also that God takes the initiative. He is the one who comes to us. Look again at verse 1: “the heavens were opened.” He chose to come down. Ezekiel didn’t open the heavens and go to him. Then verse 3: “the word of the Lord came.” And verse 4: “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north.” Then in verse 25: “there came a voice.” And finally verse 28: “I heard the voice of one speaking.”

     

    Like Moses and the burning bush. Like Isaiah in the temple. Like Paul on the road to Damascus. So with Ezekiel. None of these men were out looking for God or initiated with him. This God takes the initiative. He comes to us.

     

    God Communicates

    And this God communicates. Did you notice that Ezekiel’s vision climaxes in a voice? In words? If we where choreographing this vision, we would not do it this way. These days, we would want a spectacle—a show for the eyes. But here, God’s vision climaxes not with something for the eyes, but with a word to the ears—“I heard the voice of one speaking” (1:28).

     

    This is why the God’s Word is central in our church’s gatherings. We take time to hear from God’s Word because he speaks to us through his Word. God is committed to speaking to his people, to knowing them, and to having them know him. And so with Ezekiel.

    [Questions]

     

    A VISION OF GOD’S DEPARTURE

    The second great vision in this book is a flashback. It’s a vision of God’s departure from the temple in Jerusalem. And this vision reminds us of how far away we are from paradise.  That true paradise won’t be found on this earth.

     

    Certainly, Ezekiel’s fellow exiles in Babylon knew this. They knew Babylon wasn’t paradise.  But Ezekiel’s vision showed them that neither was Jerusalem! They’d gone to great lengths to protect Jerusalem, thinking that holding onto Jerusalem was holding onto God. But that was wrong. So Ezekiel was given another vision, or series of visions, in which he saw the sin of Israel and God’s evacuation of Jerusalem. God turned his people over to the care of the gods they really loved.

     

    Chapters 6 to 24 are prophecies against Israel because of its sin. God wants the people to know exactly why he’s deserted them. The prophecies against Israel begin in chapters 6 and 7, and the Lord promises, “I will turn my face away from [my people]” (7:22), just as he promised through Jeremiah: “I will show them my back, not my face” (Jer. 18:17). But the core of God’s complaint against his people is shown to Ezekiel in chapters 8 to 11. Beginning in chapters 8 and 9, God gives him a very specific vision of the idolatry being practiced in the temple itself. In chapters 10 and 11, the vision continues, but now Ezekiel sees God departing from the temple and its grounds, just as the people had departed from the worship of God. The vision ends in chapter 11 as the Lord departs the city itself. Here’s a sample of this vision:

     

    “The hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man. Below what appeared to be his waist was fire, and above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming metal. He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy” (8:1-3).

     

    “And he said to me, “Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.” So I went in and saw. And there, engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel (8:9-10).

     

    “Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.  And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.  And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to the exiles. Then the vision that I had seen went up from me.” (11:22-24).

     

    The people had caused this unnatural separation, this divorce, between them and God by pursuing other gods! And in chapters 16, 20, and 23, the Lord uses the most graphic of language to charge Jerusalem with heinous unfaithfulness. He says to them,

     

    “But you trusted in your beauty and played the whorebecause of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his.  You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be. You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for a pleasing aroma; and so it was, declares the Lord God” (16:15-19).

     

    Many years before Ezekiel’s day, God had warned his people through Moses that he would send them into exile if they were unfaithful to him. In one of Moses’ final speeches to the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land, he prophesied this: “And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.  And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples” (Deut. 28:63-64).

     

    God’s people, as I said, caused this unnatural separation, this divorce. And now they would pay the price. After all the stinging indictments against Israel’s unfaithfulness that we’ve read, we read at the beginning of chapter 24:2, “Son of man, write down the name of this day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.” In the siege, Jerusalem began to bear the punishment of God’s desertion.

     

    In chapters 25 to 32 and chapter 35, Ezekiel’s attention shifts away from the Israelites and onto the nations. As we learned from the final chapters of Jeremiah in our previous study, we learn here that God’s justice is not confined to his people. The nations that looked victorious, both to themselves and to the exiled Israelites, were in trouble with God. God would judge them as well. God’s people could be certain that God alone was sovereign over all nations.

     

    Then in chapters 33 and 34, God takes his own people to task once more for two reasons. First, he says, the leaders are corrupt and only take care of themselves (34:2). Second, the people themselves have ignored his Word:

     

    “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’  And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain.  And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it.” (33:30-32).

     

    The people would simultaneously sit, hear, and enjoy God’s Word and then ignore it! They would go through all the motions of worshipping God, but their hearts were devoted to idols. In short, the people of Israel were tempted to trust the wealth of their land.  They were tempted to trust the political stability of the Davidic line, and even the temple itself.  All the while ignoring God’s Word. So none of these things would save God’s people.

     

    A VISION OF GOD’S COMING AND THE PROMISE OF PARADISE

     

    The last section of Ezekiel’s prophecy contains several more famous visions of hope. In chapter 36, for instance, we read about God’s remarkable promise to gather his people from the nations, cleanse them from their impurities and idols, replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, and grant them his Spirit who will move them to follow his ways and keep his commands (36:24-28). In chapter 37, we watch how this will be done in Ezekiel’s remarkable vision of the valley of the dry bones.  Ezekiel preaches God’s Word, and the bones come to life!

     

    The last great series of visions in the book then occur in chapters 40 to 48, where God shows Ezekiel a new temple. The first temple had been destroyed in the Babylonian invasion after God’s departure.

     

    Now, some people may regard this final vision of a new temple as a boring addition that clutters our Bibles and confuses our minds.  Is this just architectural doodling by an unemployed priest in Babylon with nothing better to do?

     

    Of course not! Instead, God says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel” (40:4). This is the climax of the whole book. Most likely, Ezekiel’s listeners would have been enthralled by this vision. Most of all, God’s pledge to be with his people would have kept his audience in rapt attention.

     

    This is what the vision of God returning to a re-built temple in chapter 43 is all about. Even as Ezekiel had seen the glory of the Lord depart from the temple and the city in chapters 10 and 11, now he watches God return to his temple:

     

    “Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face.  As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east,  the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (43:1-5).

     

    Ezekiel prophesied that the exiles would return to the land, and here he promises that the destroyed temple would be rebuilt and filled again with the presence of God. God would once again be with his people. From God’s renewed presence and rule, unnumbered blessings would flow, even as a river would flow out of the new temple (ch. 47).

     

    The purpose of this temple vision was to highlight a restored relationship of God with his people. So the final verse of the book is a fitting ascription: “And the name of the city from that time on will be: “the Lord is there” (48:35b). The book leaves us with the picture of God forever with his people. Ezekiel is, in a sense, the Old Testament equivalent to the book of Revelation, especially given Revelation’s closing visions of God, God’s judgment, and the heavenly city.

     

    In the book of Ezra, we learn that the exiles did return to the Promised Land and rebuild the temple, yet we have no record of the glory of the Lord filling the temple as it did at Solomon’s inauguration of the first temple. But centuries later, Immanuel himself would enter the precincts of the temple in Jerusalem. And in that final vision of the heavenly city in the book of Revelation, communion with God would become even more intimate.  God’s people would celebrate not just in his presence, as wonderful as that is, but in full view of him, dwelling with him forever!

     

    Like Revelation, Ezekiel closes with the glorious hope of paradise. Each tribe is promised a portion of a renewed land, and a land which seems to point beyond what Ezra and Nehemiah returned to find. A land we still look forward to.

     

    For our purposes here, two questions still need to be answered. First, why would God offer this renewed hope for his unfaithful people? Above all else, God promises to change his people and restore them to himself for his own name’s sake.

     

    “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (36:22-23; emphasis added).

     

    Second, how will God restore sinners to himself? After all, he is holy. How can he disregard heinous sin and bring sinners into his presence? Well, Ezekiel only shines a light dimly on the answer to this question; but we do see that God will not simply disregard this sin, he will deal with it. Repeatedly, God calls Ezekiel the “son of man.”  And this son of man symbolizes the bearing of sin on his body when he lays on his side (4:4,5,6). And in chapter 16, God promises a time “when I atone” for faithless Israel (16:63).

     

    God also promises that a day would come when he would judge the people’s useless shepherds and “set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.” (34:23-24). On that day, he will also grant his people a “covenant of peace” (34:25). Who would this coming shepherd be? Who does this son of man point to?  None other than Jesus Christ, who called himself the son of man and lay down his life for his sheep (John 10:15).  By laying down his life on the cross, he paid for the sins of all those who would ever repent and believe. He brought peace for the rebels ready to lay down their arms. He brought forgiveness for the sinners who wanted to be done with sin and knew they could do nothing to forgive themselves. Only through Christ can we be reconciled to the Father.

     

    So that’s our tour of Ezekiel.  God is with his people, and he will make a way for them to be truly with him in heaven.  But to see more of that future, heavenly vision—we’ll have to wait for next week when we get to Daniel.

     

    [Questions]