The book of Ezekiel has been on my mind a lot these days, partly because I am reading through it in my devotions, and partly because I got to hear my pastor Paul Beck give a ministry seminar on this book a few weeks back. Some miscellaneous thoughts:
1) The metaphor of adultery for sin throughout the book is a sobering reminder for me of the seriousness and ugliness of sin. What a gripping thought: when I reject God and fail to love Him as I ought, I am, in a sense, cheating on the Ultimate Husband and Lover of my soul. Yikes. This metaphor deepens my understanding of how fiercely God hates evil, and it makes me more grateful for the cross, where Jesus became the ultimate adulterer so that we could be restored as God’s pure and spotless bride. I want to read Dad’s book on this metaphor. I think it can be a helpful lens through which to view sin, especially in our culture which often downplays the seriousness of sin. For most of us, even just reading Ezekiel 16 out loud in a church service would be an eyebrow raiser. But maybe that is just why we need it. As the metaphor strikes and offends us, so our sin strikes and offends God. Its a striking metaphor because sin is striking.
2) It is simply amazing how frequently the phrase “that you may know that I am the Lord” is reiterated throughout the book. I think it occurs somewhere around 70 times in the space of 48 chapters. I see here a powerful reminder of God’s passionate desire for the display of his glory to his creatures. Amidst all of his action, in both judgment and salvation (and its amazing how alive and active God is throughout the book), God’s ultimate concern is that His creatures know His glory. In other words, God is not only concerned to be God in our lives and in history, He wants to be seen as God in the process. He not only acts: He reveals Himself to us in those actions.
I find it simply amazing that God wants his glory to be seen by us. There is something in me that wonders: why does He even care? It almost feels like a musical genius wanting to teaching ants about why his music is so beautiful, or a gifted author teaching centipedes how to read so they can enjoy his book. We are so small, and He is so big – its not like our compliments and love could fill some gap in Him. Even if He needed the praise of others – which He doesn’t because He’s perfectly self-sufficient in His triune relations – but even if He did, He’s got the angels with whom to share His glory. But then I consider that this effusive, over-flowing bent towards Self-giving and Self-revelation is really an act of love. If God’s glory is the ultimate Good in reality, the Beauty and Light and Joy from which all other beauty and light and joy stems, then God’s concern that we see his glory is ultimately a way of saying: “I care about you – I dignify you – I love you too much to allow you to live for anything less than what is best.”
Once again I see a message here that is much needed in our church culture, which often lacks a robust God-centeredness at its core, and as a result often downplays God’s judgment and overemphasizes the human element in God’s salvation. If we could start all our theology and living with a vivid experience of the glory of God as Ezekiel had in chapter 1, how many errors would we avoid! We would be like ants who knew there was music, or centipedes who knew there was literature – our lives would take on a new, exalted focus. I also think this focus on God’s glory is desperately needed in our outreach and evangelism – our rootless, postmodern culture is aching and searching for something Ultimate and Transcendent for which to live. You can see it – and the despair of not having it – in movies and TV all the time.
3) Ezekiel had a tough calling. But God established him firmly in it. “I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint” (2:8-9). It seems to me that there’s lot of meat here for pastors and others in ministry who desire to be faithful in a difficult calling. I can’t imagine having to say to people all that Ezekiel had to say! Faithfulness for him did not mean a mega-church and a book contract. It meant loneliness, persecution, and unpopularity. But what is most amazing to me about Ezekiel’s calling is that, at a couple of key passages in the book, the recurrent phrase “and you will know that I am the Lord” is altered and applied to Ezekiel himself. For example, God says to Ezekiel back in 2:5: “whether they listen or fail to listen – for they are a rebellious people – they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Or at the end of the prophecy in chapter 33, “When all this comes true – and it surely will – then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
Thus, right alongside all its difficulty and suffering, Ezekiel’s office is also given the greatest dignity and honor: to be associated with the glory of God, the greatest beauty in the universe and the great cause behind all of history. Those who fought Ezekiel would discover they were fighting God Himself, and the revelation of God’s glory was simultaneously the vindication of Ezekiel as a true prophet. This is what young post-modern people in our culture need: a transcendent vision of something massive to live for, an all-consuming Vertical cause that stretches beyond the emptiness and boredom of our Horizontal causes. Oh God, may we labor for your glory today, and thus become associated with it, connected to it, imbedded in it. May our lives tell the story of your beauty. May we spend ourselves for that cause, losing ourselves in it and thus finding true joy and life.
4) The reality of determined, final judgment throughout the book is striking. There are times when God says, in effect, “that’s it. Enough is enough. I will not hear you even if you repent. You have crossed the line of no return. I am tearing you down, and you’re never never going to be built back up. You’re outta here. And you’re never coming back.” Yikes. I don’t want to over-emphasize this, because the whole point of other passages in Ezekiel (chapter 18, or 33:11-16) concerns the saving efficacy of repentance from wickedness. But I really think we can make God too “nice” today. If our understanding of God has no category for final, irrevocable judgment, we need some adjustment from Ezekiel and the other OT prophets. Without downplaying his love and gentleness, I think we need to recover a healthy fear of God’s fierceness and holiness. You can catch a glimpse of it by diving in just about anywhere in the book.
5) I do think that 28:11-19 is ultimately about Satan. I used to think of this as “double meaning,” applied to both the king of Tyre as well as Satan. Now I am wondering if its better to take more in terms of the principle of corporate solidarity: thus the king of Tyre becomes the personification of the ultimate expression of evil, Satan himself in his rebellion against God. Just as Ezekiel gets annexed to the glory and cause of God, so the king of Tyre gets annexed to the history and reality of evil and opposition to God, ultimately located in Satan himself. Just as God’s glory is a cause that one gets sucked into, so is opposition to that glory! Good and evil are not merely personal destinies, but two great histories that we join, stretching back to the angels’ warfare.
6) I am going into chapters 40-48 now, and I have no idea what to do with all the rebuilding of the temple stuff. I need to read Block for help.