Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ezekiel's "Hopeless" Assignment

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Before we launch into Ezekiel chapter forty-seven, it might be worthwhile to take a quick look at the prophet himself. Ezekiel was called to serve as God’s prophet to the people of Israel, although he had occasion to prophesy to Judah and other nations as well. This was most certainly NOT an easy job. In fact, God told Ezekiel right from the start that Israel would not heed anything Ezekiel had to say.

A Quick Backward Look
If you remember anything about Old Testament history, you will probably recall that there were twelve tribes that descended from Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. After the death of King Solomon, these twelve tribes split apart. Ten tribes in the north were called Israel. Two tribes in the south were referred to as Judah, after the biggest tribe.

When I took an Old Testament Survey course a number of years ago, I learned something that I found very interesting. Over the years, Judah had a rollercoaster-like relationship with God. They had a series of evil kings who led Judah away from God and into idolatry. Then there would be a king or two who led the people back to God.

But Israel? Israel never had a king who led his people back to God. Not even one. Israel was idolatrous. Israel was stubborn. Israel was rebellious.

It was to this bull-headed, rebellious, hard-hearted nation that God sent Ezekiel. Seems like a hopeless mission, doesn’t it? I wonder if Ezekiel had the thought cross his mind, “You want me to do WHAT?!?” No matter what the prophet may have thought, he did accept the call God placed on him.

Ezekiel - A VERY Quick Glance
I just scanned through the headings in book of Ezekiel, just to get a quick overview of the kind of things Ezekiel talked about. He carried messages of doom and destruction for the rebellious nation. He also carried messages of hope that God would eventually restore His people.

Ezekiel was told to do things that would have been considered “weird” to the people who saw him, but each “weird” action carried an important message from God. They ignored every one of them.

This prophet also had many visions. We won’t go into all of them, but one particularly long and detailed vision had to do with the Temple. (Ezekiel 40-47)

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Now…To The River’s Source
Let’s start with a look at the first two verses on Ezekiel 47, as the prophet looks to the future hope that God promised to His people.

Then he brought me back to the door of the house; and behold, water was flowing from under the threshold of the house toward the east, for the house faced east. And the water was flowing down from under, from the right side of the house, from south of the altar. He brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate by way of the gate that faces east. And behold, water was trickling from the south side. (Ezekiel 47:1-2 NASB)

If you are like me, you may have found your eyes crossing a bit as you read those verses. Why in the world is it so important to know from which direction the water flowed? Why did Ezekiel so careful to point out that the house (Temple) faced east?

You know what? I am not even going to try to answer those particular questions. For the purposes of this post, I am content to accept that Ezekiel was always very detailed in his descriptions and leave it at that.

The point that I think is important is the part that says the water flowed “from south of the altar”. This description of what might be referred to as the River of Life begins at the source.

The river begins at the altar in the Temple. In Ezekiel’s time, temple was thought of as the place where God lived. Even though people who truly loved God knew that He was far bigger than any building people could make, the Temple was still considered to be God’s dwelling place.

So when Ezekiel so carefully described the water flowing out from the altar in the Temple, he was pointing out to the people of His day…and to us…that the source of life is God Himself. Life flows out from His presence. The presence of God is the source of life.

In the next several posts, we will look further into this passage.
  • We will see an invitation to go deeper.
  • We will see the life-giving river at work.
  • We will take a look at a sentence that must have left old Ezekiel scratching his head.
  • Most importantly, I hope we will all be challenged to allow God’s River of Life to flow freely through us as we touch our world with His Life.

Time for Reflection
From where do you draw life? From family? From friends? From excitement? From approval? From God’s active presence in your life? From something else? I’m sure we all know what the truly “spiritual” answer should be, but is the “right” answer really the true answer for you right now? As we explore Ezekiel 47:1-12, let’s allow God’s river of life to flow through us in ways we never knew before.

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