Saturday, October 4, 2008

Reflections on Ezekiel

Reading the prophets stirs my heart immensely. The character of God's heart is so transcendent throughout the scriptures and it gives me a more generous understanding of him.

I began this week what must be my tenth study of this wonderful book. Each time I pour over it different impressions strike me. Ezekiel was a priest to the people of Israel. He was a holy man, a religious man. Together with many of his fellow Israelites, he has been stolen from his homeland by the Babylonians and taken into exile. We find Ezekiel by the river Kebar in Babylon together with the other exiles. The scene is a sorry one. It would appear to them that God had turned his back upon them and given them over to their enemies. They were despondent. (Read Lamentations for a broader understanding.)

It is in this context that God appears to Ezekiel:

1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.

2 On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin- 3 the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him.

God appeared. Amazing. Even though his people have grieved his heart, he still comes to them. He is not through with Israel. All of what has transpired has been foretold by other prophets such as Isaiah. God longed for repentance among his people so he sent prophets to warn them of what would happen if they did not repent. What most offended God was their affections for idols. They had become sychratistic in their religion. Yes, they worshipped God but why not hedge your bets and set up alters to the pagan gods also? This deeply offends God both then and now. As I search both the new and old testaments what is clearly evident is that God hates this practice. He will not tolerate other gods beside him.

Even though Israel has offended, God continues to come to his people. He doesn't come gently though. He commands Ezekiel to continue hammering home to them the stiff penalty for their abandonment. He gives vivid contrast between his thrown room and his displeasure with his people. He leaves Ezekiel "overwhelmed" by what he has seen and heard. Ezekiel can do nothing but sit among the exiles for seven days.

God then comes to him again. I wonder if Ezekiel might have said to himself, "Please, no more. I can't withstand more of what I have seen." As God's glory appears to him he finds himself facedown before him staggered by his presence. He is given specific instructions and sent off to perform his assigned duties. He is warned that he must not fear man above God. He must be willing to say the hard thing that God has ordained him to say. If he fails, God will bring the same punishment upon him that as the offender.

This morning I was caught by this passage:

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, set your face against the mountains of Israel; prophesy against them 3 and say: 'O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. 4 Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols. 5 I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 6 Wherever you live, the towns will be laid waste and the high places demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols smashed and ruined, your incense altars broken down, and what you have made wiped out. 7 Your people will fall slain among you, and you will know that I am the LORD.

8 " 'But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. 9 Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, 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. 10 And they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.

11 " 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out "Alas!" because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the house of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague. 12 He that is far away will die of the plague, and he that is near will fall by the sword, and he that survives and is spared will die of famine. So will I spend my wrath upon them. 13 And they will know that I am the LORD, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak—places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah [a] —wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the LORD.' "

As I read, I wondered about the character of God and his fury directed against idolatry. My thoughts migrated to that of nations and more specifically America today. Many see our country as the new "chosen people". They believe God has called our country in a unique way and seeks to bless it uniquely. They read 2 Chronicles 7:14:

14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

This is then applied directly to America. We are God's people meaning America. We have been chosen in a way similar to Israel's election. This, I believe is flawed thinking and unbiblical. Certainly, God will give favor to any nation that favors his people. The bible is repleate with evidence of this. However, this is a call to God's covenant people. This is a call to those God has formed a distinct and unique relationship with evidenced by blood and oath. It is at this point that a lengthy discussion of covenant is in order but I'll save that for another post.

Perhaps a better way of seeing America is to think of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Ptolemies, Romans and other empires that have intersected with God's people. Yes, God gave each of these great blessing and expanded their empires. However, with a few exceptions, one would be hard pressed to see these empires as being God-fearing in any way. Not only is this so but in the end when God's purposes are fulfilled with them he brings about the punishment their sins against his people deserve.

America is almost certainly post-Christian. We have chased God from public life. Yes, we can speak of him but it better be in sanctified areas away from public debate. Bring God up in any discussion regarding public policy and you are immediately written off as a nut. Your ideas are not considered valid in the discussion. Sadly, in the end, these are the only words that would heal any nation.

God cares about his Kingdom. God cares about his church. God cares about his glory. He raises up nations to fulfill these purposes. If a nation will repent, yes God will bring blessing but it will be for the purposes mentioned. How does a nation support or obstruct the propagation of the gospel? Even an empire as evil as the Romans flourished by God's grace for almost a thousand years. The Romans unified the world under a single language. They developed straight roads and brought about peace that allowed for the propagation of the Gospel. Yes, they severely persecuted the church but they were raised up primarily at that time to allow the expansion of the gospel of Jesus. In the end, judgment came their way. God then moved to Europe, the Renaissance, reformation and the enlightenment. The gospel marched on.

Today, America is in crisis. It should not surprise us that God has left us to our own devices when we are as idolatrous as any nation in history. If he brought about the destruction of earlier empires why do we think we will be any different?

What about the slumbering church in America? We are off on massive building projects so we can be warm and comfortable while the church around the world hides underground to worship God. We stand by with hands in figurative pockets while over a million children are slain each year in the name of personal freedom and liberty. What does God see when he observes these things? Will he stand for this or is there a moment when he disciplines his people and punishes an empire?

America may go on for another thousand years. I don't know what God is doing now with any precision, but I do know there is timer running on America. I do know that there is a timer running on the church in America. God will ultimately prune and discipline his people but he will utterly destroy the nation at some point. Even then, he is not through with his purpose and plans. He will raise up another nation. He will stir the gospel fires in other places that once burned bright in our country. He is not an "American". He is God.

No comments: