Ezekiel 3:16-6

God appears to Ezekiel again, as he had by the Kebar River, in all his glory. Ezekiel falls facedown and the Spirit enters him and raises him to his feet, just as before. God tells him to act out a number of scenes in front of his people as illustrations of his judgment. (For the story of Ezekiel’s first vision of God, read https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/01/november-1/)

These scenes are strange sorts of play acting. Among them are using a soft clay tablet to draw Jerusalem and then showing a siege against it; using all sorts of normally unused grains for bread and baking them in a loaf over cow dung; and cutting off his own hair with a sword, dividing it into three parts, and doing various things with each part.

God’s point? He says all of these are demonstrations of his judgment for their sin, which is worse than the pagan nations around them. He means to teach them one thing: that God is the Lord, their one true God, Ez 3:24-6:7.

Ezekiel is speaking to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, not to the Jews living in Jerusalem, who will experience the coming judgments he enacts. These exiled Jews have been living in Babylon for years since Nebuchadnezzar came in and deported them and their king in the second of three waves of captivity.

So why does Ezekiel enact the judgment coming to the Jews left behind in their homeland? What good does it do these exiles to learn about what’s heading down the highway to Jerusalem, other than just to give them a heads’ up? God’s gone to an awful lot of trouble to get Ezekiel’s attention in a dramatic floorshow of himself in order to commission him to speak to these exiles.

So what is God so fired up to say? That judgment is coming to their kin left at home? Why is that his message? And then I see it. Just after the verse I summarized above, about how God wants to teach them that he alone is God, I read this, “But I will spare some…,” Ez 6:8.

Ezekiel’s not telling them what’s coming to Jerusalem to warn the exiles. Even if they care about those folks they left behind and what’s about to go down for them, they can’t do anything about it. Even if they repent of their sins, the one’s God’s carried them to Babylon for, their repentance won’t change Jerusalem’s judgment. One of the skits had Ezekiel putting an iron skillet between his back and the clay tablet of Jerusalem. The message? God won’t change his mind and relent the judgment. His back is turned and his mind is made up and he’s hard as iron about it.

But God has a more hopeful message for the exiles than just informing them about judgment for Jerusalem. Ezekiel speaks to them because they’re the people God’s rescued out of this worse judgment that’s coming, when “fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers,” a judgment unlike any he’s ever sent before, 5:9-10. He’s spared them from it because they’re the remnant he’s promised he will bring back and restore in his land, a remnant who will repent and seek him.

Jeremiah, the prophet to Judah during the 40+ years of this time period, prophesied that a remnant will return to Jerusalem and rebuild it, Je 23:3, 31:7, 50:20. They’ll abandon their idolatry and turn to God and serve him. They’ll have restored relationship. God will make a new covenant with them. And he will give them new hearts to obey him, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people,” Je 31:33 These exiles have the chance to be those of a future restored nation that Jeremiah prophesied about.

No wonder God wants to get their attention. No wonder he has particular words for them. No wonder he wants to tell them in no uncertain terms to get their acts together and repent. They’ve got a future, and it’s not in Babylon! Will they accept it? Will they return to him?

Being restored to their homeland was of utmost concern to the Jewish nation for the exiles. They had no temple–no center of worship and daily life–in Babylon. Though they had corrupted God’s temple with idolatry, it was still a source of national pride and security as their tradition, their gathering place as a nation, one that went back hundreds of years to the days of Moses and the tent in the wilderness.

The temple had symbolized God’s presence with his people, and at one time had been a rich place of communion with him and with one another. It had become corrupted because of bad leadership and the people’s idolatry over the years. But still, it had its place in their hearts. Its destruction by the Babylonians was a loss everyone felt. In their minds, losing the temple meant they’d lost home, they’d lost God, they’d lost themselves.

Psalm 137 was written from the perspective of the exiles who sat and wept beside the rivers in Babylon. They longed for their homeland. They grieved their exile. Their captors asked them to sing joyful songs–“our tormentors demanded songs of joy…’sing us one of the songs of Zion!'”–but they couldn’t. Their grief was too severe. What were they grieved about? Losing Jerusalem was first on the list, 137:4-6. I learned last week that they were considered to be slaves in Babylon, at the bottom of the social ladder. Longing for the freedom and comfort of home was on everyone’s heart.

So Ezekiel spends a lot of time and energy, acting out the horrors of Judah’s impending doom–sword, starvation, plague, captivity. He’s made clear the reason for these judgments– the Jew’s worship of other gods, not Jehovah-God. He’s described how their altars and places of worship on every hill and valley in their homeland will be smashed and its people slain. He’s let them know that God won’t relent what he’s intending. And he’s let them know that some of them have been tucked into the hem of Ezekiel’s robe, like the hair he’s tied there for safe keeping, 5:3; 6:1-7.

Who are these saved “hairs”? They’re the ones God will save from the judgment he’s bringing. That could mean the exiles in Babylon. It could also mean anyone from Judah and Jerusalem whose life he chooses to spare out of the coming disaster, too.

I’m guessing there was an audible sigh of relief from the audience by the end of Ezekiel’s sermon illustrations, ones that took him over a year to perform. Out of his gloom-and-doom, the fact that some of them were tucked into the hem of his robe had to feel like blessed relief. To escape what was coming? To not feel inclined to eat a father or a child? These were enormous pieces of good news, Ez 4:8-12.

And yet, they had to wonder why them? Why were they spared? Hadn’t they been on those high hills back home, worshipping at shrines dedicated to Molech and Chemosh? Hadn’t they offered drink offerings to goddesses from the tops of their own houses? Hadn’t they had sex with prostitutes in God’s temple and called it worship? The exiles are just as guilty as Judah, and yet here they are, seeing exactly what they’re being spared from.

But it’s not just being restored to their land that’s on God’s mind. It’s being restored to him. He doesn’t just want the political nation of Jews back in Judah and Israel. He wants restored relationship with them, to be the first love of their lives, to be their God, to enjoy their worship because it benefits them, too.

Ezekiel’s message is clear: repent and be restored to God. Not just to avoid judgment, but out of gratitude that his offer of relationship is still on the table to them, the ones who don’t deserve it. In effect, he says, “You’ve been set apart for a fresh start. You’re being offered grace. What will you do in response to it?”

I look back at the text and pick back up with Ez 6:8, “But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. Then…those who escape will remember me–how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the Lord; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them,” 6:8-10.

What has God offered them here? I think he offers them The Road Back, (with italics added by me). For all of their suffering and grief and their longing to return to Jerusalem, I’m guessing they still haven’t returned to God. Otherwise, why has Ezekiel been swept up and sent to them to play charades for a year? They’re still stubborn, God’s already told him that. Hardhearted. Hurting for sure, but their hearts aren’t broken wide open, pouring out repentance and love.

So God gives them the road map back:

First, they’ve gotta appreciate where they aren’t: they’re not going to be in Jerusalem eating grandpa. They’re getting to escape the pending doomsday that’s certainly coming to Jerusalem. Huge break. This should prompt some real gratitude, I’m guessing. Let the relief settle. Let a song of gratitude play in their hearts and soften them up.

Next, they need to remember God, and who he’s been for them. How he’s blessed them with abundance and prosperity, with families and friendships, with wine and celebrations. They might tell stories of their ancestors’ deliverances from enemies, just in the nick of time, without their lifting a finger. How he gave them godly kings like David, Hezekiah, and Josiah in the good ole’ days. What’s happened to God’s goodness? They might wonder. Where did he go? And why?

A little light of fond remembrance and past mercies might dawn, might lead them to remember their own more recent behavior against him, how they’ve become bored with him and worshipped other gods, how they’ve abandoned his words and decided to live life their way. Some might begin to see how the trouble started then. And this is when repentance would settle in for a time, a “loathing themselves for the evil they have done…” 6:9. They need to look at their lives. They need to examine their hearts. They need to see God’s goodness alongside their badness. They need to despise what they’ve done because it’s been an offense to a holy God.

After escaping and remembering and loathing, they will know that the Lord is God: they’ll see who God is in comparison to themselves and their idols. They’ll see how their idols never measured up. They’ll be awed by his holiness. Grateful for his mercy. Needy for his forgiveness and love. Convinced of him as the only true God, they’ll worship him alone.

God’s been devastated by their idolatry. He compares his heart about it with that of a husband, who has an unfaithful wife. Guzik’s commentary says another way to translate the word for “grieved” here is “crushed,” (https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-6). God’s crushed by us? Yes. He holds out offers of relationship to every person ever born and gets rejected and cheated on constantly. “Crushed” doesn’t begin to describe the pain of adultery.

After all their hardhearted rejection of him, God still wants them back? Whaaat? It can’t be true, and yet, isn’t this what the prophet Jeremiah had foretold them, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” Jer 29:13. They will seek and find. Not seek and come up empty. About now, the light might be really burning bright, “Hasn’t God laid his hand on Ezekiel, and sent him to us to do these crazy shenanigans to get our attention, and to cry out for our return? Why else would he bother? God wants us back? God wants us back!”

The whole point of Ezekiel is so “they will know that I am the Lord.” He repeats this exact same sentence four times at the tail end of this passage, 6:7-14. It’s repeated 180 times in the book of Ezekiel, more than any other book in the Bible (Holy Bible app, https://apps.apple.com/us/app/bible/id282935706). Knowing who God is matters. Proverbs says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” Pr 1: 7. Without it? We’re just foolin’ around and wastin’ time.

To the Jews in exile, God basically says, “Just in case you missed it the first time…and the second…and the third times, I’m the only God. You’ve been running in exactly the wrong direction all your lives. You’ve wasted yourselves and everything you’ve been given. You’re slaves in a foreign land. You’re cut off from home. But things could be worse. Ezekiel’s just acted out the ‘worse.’ I’ve spared you, and I’ve shown you who I am–the God of judgment and grace. And I’m offering myself to you once again. What will you do with me?”

I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

Connecting with God isn’t a one-and-done sort of relationship. It’s not a pray-this-prayer and now you’re in. It’s a one-and-from-now-on relationship, it’s a marriage, a contract, an intimate connection for a lifetime of love that grows richer and deeper and more joyous.

Regardless of whether you’ve been walking with him for years or you’re brand new and taking your first baby steps, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” Jer 29:13.

The life of faith is a lifelong journey into love that never ends. God is greater than we can imagine and there’s always more God to know. Why settle for one-and-done? You wouldn’t settle for that in any human relationship. A first time meeting with the love of your life and it’s over after the first date? Heck no. You want more! It’s the same with God.

So tell him “I want more!” and keep telling him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. Seek him.

And you’ll find him.

You’ll find more.

Hebrews 4

The writer says we must be careful–once we hear the gospel–to “combine it with faith,” Heb 4:2. It’s not enough to hear it with our ears, we must respond to it from our hearts. And when we do, we enter his “rest,” a metaphor for the new life we have in him, “Now we who have believed enter that rest,” 4:3.

He cautions, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,” 4:7. It’s possible to hear him calling and refuse to answer. Hardening once begun is a bitch to undo. I know. It takes a jackhammer to break up the rock of a hard heart. It takes a sword slicing through, and it hurts like you-know-what. My heart hardened up a few years back, and there’s still some hard places that need breaking up and hauling off. Knowing that God held the hammer is the only way I’ve been able to endure it.

How does God deal with hard hearts? Mainly through his word. The writer continues, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account,” 4:12-13.

How does one bear all the work that must be done to carve out a hard heart of unbelief and self-righteousness? There’s good news in the next verses: we have a sympathetic Savior, who’s felt the hammer of God’s judgment and the slice of his sword. He knows what pain is. He suffered it just so he could help us. And he does.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” 4:12-16.

We have everything we need: the double-edged sword, God’s written words; and the Spirit who sees what needs to be done and does it; and the sympathetic Savior, who knows what it’s like to be human and to be tempted and offers comfort–ibuprophen and a handhold, a cocktail and a Kleenex; and the Father on the throne, who is longing to give us the mercy and grace we need, every single time we need it. “He has far more desire to give it than we have to ask him for it,” Pastor Corby.

With such an offer from the Father, Son, and Spirit, and with such help from his word, we have all the help we need to respond to God’s call with burning hearts of faith.

Oh, God, who is like you? You know me and still want me? You break up my bedrock and clean up the mess. You comfort and encourage me as we go. And you create yourself in me, digging out a soft space inside to fill up with yourself.

I feel you working, and while it is excruciating sometimes, it’s also the “so good it hurts” kind of excruciating–a deep ache relieved, a resurrection of myself that I deeply want and cannot do. Thank you.

Psalm 104:24-35

This psalm describes God’s constant connection with the earth he made: he provides everything it needs from feeding the animals and sustaining life, to taking it away and renewing it, again and again. The psalmist’s response is to praise:

“I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my mediation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord.
But may sinners vanish from the earth
and the wicked be no more.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord.” 33-35.

God, if you care enough for your creatures, the land, and the sea, to provide for them and to renew them, I know you care for me, too.

“When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things…
you renew the face of the earth,” 28, 30.

Help me see where I can help renew and revive your world, too. It’s a privilege to live in it, and I want to give back.

You make me new, too. You renew and revive me, giving me both hardship and help, and the events I need to drive me deeper into you and you into me. All I have to give back to you is my worship and praise. Thank you for your thoughtful, tender care for this planet and for everyone and everything on it.

My take away today is joy for the process you undertake in me, to take me from first faith into more faith, and for the way you use your words to do it. Thank you for letting me find you, and for loving me enough not to leave me as you found me, and for the companionship of the Spirit on the journey, and for the work of Jesus, who connects us and reminds you how hard this life is for me.

And thank you for the “rivers of mercy, never ceasing” that flow from your throne of grace. I’m so grateful for this privilege of being yours and for all your help to me. Saying a simple thank you feels so lame. Thank you for receiving it anyway.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.”

_____________________________

Afterword…

The God of Moses and Ezekiel is still the same God today. His offer to people hasn’t changed. He holds out relationship to anyone who wants it.

Here are the 4-steps to find him from Ezekiel. This is the gospel.

Realize that we have a chance to turn or return to him. So far, we’ve escaped death and the end-of-time when the offer to return to God comes off the table, 6:8.

Remember who he is, the husband who is devastated over the loss of us, who grieves like a jilted lover, 6:9. AND the one who will one day judge us if we turn away, Heb 4:3.

Repent for rejecting him, loathe our sin, realize we can’t turn from it without help from the Savior. (“Loathing” in the text means “lamenting”–to grieve over the sin, not to reject one’s self.) 6:9.

Rejoice knowing he’s the Lord and enjoy a restored relationship with him. Restoration involves worshipping him, the only one worthy of worship.

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