Category Archives: Ezekiel

Ezekiel 44-48 – God’s Presence and the Living Water

And so I come to the end of Ezekiel with these last five chapters, all of which go into great detail about how worship at the temple must be done, and how the city and the land are to be divided among the 12 tribes. As I discussed in the previous post, these instructions in the last nine chapters of Ezekiel were never implemented. So, the dispensational pre-mills think that means it will all come “literally” true in the millennium when Jesus comes back to physically reign in this temple. I’m, however, inclined to see it as typological, pointing to the perfection of God dwelling with his people forever. Indeed, the final words of the chapter are:

“And the name of the city from that time on will be:

the Lord is there.”

God’s presence is both the sine qua non (the essential condition) and the summon bonum (the highest good) of what it means to be his people. He is the ground of all existence, the only being that has life in himself, the only non-contingent thing that exists. As Paul says, “he gives all men life and breath and everything else.”

Another reason this can’t be “literal” is what we read of the river coming from the temple in chapter 47. Ezekiel sees water begin to flow “out from under the threshold of the temple,” which eventually turns into “a river that no one could cross.” From what I can tell there are no rivers flowing out of Jerusalem. And this is not just any old water, but living water because “where the river flows everything will live.” It even turns salt water of the Dead Sea into fresh water.

This living water is the Spirit of God himself. As Jesus says to the woman at the well in John 4, he can give us living water because as he declares (John 7:38), “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within him.” And when Jesus says “as Scripture has said” he is in effect saying he is God! The water coming from the Temple is living water precisely because of this (chapter 44):

Then the man brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple. I looked and saw the glory of the LORD filling the temple of the LORD, and I fell facedown.

God’s presence, his glory, is why the water brings life, and Jesus promises it to us! So these chapter are “literal” in that sense. John was likely thinking of these chapters when he writes in Revelation 7:

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'”

Oh what a hope we have!

Ezekiel 40-43 – Ezekiel’s Temple Vision Points to Its Ultimate Fulfillment in Christ

The final chapters of Ezekiel, including including these four, describe in a vision the rebuilding of the temple when the exiles return to the land, one that never gets built. This article, “Making Sense of Ezekiel’s Temple Vision,” is an excellent explanation of what this all might possibly mean. Those who hold different perspectives on eschatology view the vision differently, and the article does a good job of laying those out. So I won’t reiterate all that here, but give some thoughts on things that stood out to me.

The vision starts the same way as Ezekiel’s initial vision in chapter 1. The hand of the Lord is upon him, and takes him to Jerusalem. And I love the way both visions start, with historical specificity. Here from chapter 40:

In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the fall of the city—on that very day the hand of the Lord was on me and he took me there.

On that very day . . . Christianity is a religion rooted in historical events. Even the visions from God are not “spiritual” and divorced from mundane existence. Everything in Scripture points us backward to point us forward.

When he’s there on “a very high mountain,” he sees “a man whose appearance was like bronze.” This is the man who will reveal this vision to him. We don’t know if this is an angel, or if we can interpret it as a Christophany, but he calls Ezekiel “Son of man,” and commands him to tell everything he sees to “the house of Israel.” Then we get three chapters of very detailed instructions on how the temple is to be built, and then in chapter 43 the glory of the Lord returns to this rebuilt temple.

If you read the article I link to above, you’ll learn that premillennialists insist that we interpret these chapters “literally.” So in their reading since no temple like this was ever built in Israel (Herod the Great’s temple, also called the Second Temple was not built on these specs), it must be built some day, and that day is during the millennium. In this view you get a rapture, a tribulation, and Jesus coming back to rule physically in Jerusalem. To me this view is not at all persuasive, and I’m sure Ezekiel’s vision points well beyond a literal temple (chapter 43):

While the man was standing beside me, I heard someone speaking to me from inside the temple. He said: “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever. The people of Israel will never again defile my holy name—neither they nor their kings—by their prostitution and the funeral offerings for their kings at their death. When they placed their threshold next to my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them, they defiled my holy name by their detestable practices. So I destroyed them in my anger. Now let them put away from me their prostitution and the funeral offerings for their kings, and I will live among them forever.

We can’t miss the word “forever,” used twice here. Are we to believe a la the “literalists” that God will live in a physical temple “forever”? All we need to do is to read Revelation 21 about the New Jerusalem, and where John says, “22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple,” to know this can’t mean a building. Perhaps as the article points out, it could have been, but the Israelites never built it. I couldn’t agree more with the author’s conclusion:

Whether or not the temple had ever actually been rebuilt, the new revelation in Christ encourages us to see its pattern as having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ Himself, who is the final atoning sacrifice and the eternal high priest of God’s people.

 

Ezekiel 38 & 39 – Gog and Magog: The Lord Does Battle for Us!

It’s difficult to find something about these chapters that isn’t dispensational pre-mill. Gog and Magog are supposed to be Russia, and especially the Soviet Union when it existed, and it will sweep down from the North to wage war against Israel, etc. Here is a paragraph from a piece at Ligonier Ministries that explains this attitude well:

No one can doubt the popularity in our day of reading the Bible alongside the newspaper, looking for how God’s message to Ezekiel, Daniel, and John (Revelation) is coming true in our lifetime. Books that “unlock the secrets of the end times” sell millions of copies, and who could count the number of conferences each year that purport to reveal how the Bible predicts current events? Few if any evangelicals in America question the propriety of this approach. However, to be faithful to what Scripture actually teaches, we must ask this question: is the Bible a code book whose meaning is determined by today’s headlines?

The answer would be a definitive no! The author puts the point perfectly with this brilliant yet simply obvious sentence:

If the passage had no meaning to its original audience, we could twist and shape its interpretation like a wax nose.

So what exactly are these chapters about? Keep in mind that these words are written to the exiles in Babylon, and in the previous two chapters Ezekiel prophesied that the Israel would be restored to their land, and again be a nation. The Lord used two great metaphors of stony hearts turned to flesh, and very dry bones come to life. These chapters speak to a restored Israel, and the enemies they will face some time in the future. I think it’s important to remember that this prophecy has both temporal significance to the nation and people of Israel, and spiritual significance that we can see when we put on the “Jesus glasses.” In the latter case this then refers to the true Israel, or the Church that Jesus purchased on the cross.

The Lord names several nations, including Gog, who “after many days” and “in future years” will invade and “attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people—all of them living without walls and without gates and bars.” These people would be God’s people, Israel, and their land. The Lord himself brings these people to make war against Israel, and he will thwart their efforts and destroy them. The reason the Lord will do this, and in everything else he has ever done is the same as it always has been and will be, as we read in the last verse of chapter 38:

23 And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.’

One commentary says this likely refers to the time of the Macabees in the second century BC. That seems plausible. On the Jesus side, the Ligonier guys say it refers to the Church, and Satan coming against us and ultimately being destroyed. We don’t need to protect ourselves because the Lord himself is our defender. That seems plausible as well.

Chapter 39 gives more details about the rout of Gog, and that because of it Israel and all the nations will know that he is the Lord. The last verse in chapter 39 has to point beyond the nation-state of Israel:

29 I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

The Lord poured out his Spirit on his people on the Day of Pentecost, and I think the idea from the Hebrew word for pour in this passage is that it’s a massive pouring. It’s no small amount of the Spirit which will be poured. So while these chapters no doubt point to the ethnic nation of Israel, the more important interpretation is that Jesus tells us it’s all about him. Even now, this very day, we luxuriate in the Spirit our God so amply provides, for our good and his glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ezekiel 37 – The Valley of Dry Bones: Our God Gives Life

Chapter 37 is the famous Valley of Dry Bones chapter. Ezekiel has a vision where the Lord by his Spirit takes him out and sets him right in the middle of a valley full of bones. I’m trying to envision what such a valley would look like. The word “full” would indicate piles of bones everywhere, and the Spirit leads him “back and forth among them.” He notices that they are very dry, and the Lord asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Only God knows, is his reply.

The Lord then commands him to prophecy life into the bones, and before his eyes the bones begin to rattle and miraculously connect. Tendons, flesh, and bone begin to attache themselves until they become fully human. But without life. As Ezekiel puts it, “there was no breath in them.” The word for breath in Hebrew, ruach, is the same word used in Genesis 1:2 for the “Spirit” of God hovering over the waters. God’s breath, his Spirit, is the animating power of existence, both physical and spiritual. Not only can he create all of the universe from nothing, and create order from chaos (“formless and void”), but he can give dead flesh life. Ezekiel is commanded to prophecy to the ruach, that the ruach should come into the slain and make them live. Again, before his eyes the dead come to life, and they turn into “a vast army.”

Outside of the prophetic meaning for Israel and us, which I will come to in a moment, this tells us that life does not inhere in the material. In other words, dirt alone cannot get lucky; non-life, inanimate matter cannot make life. As we read about in chapter 36, there is a difference between hearts of stone and hearts of flesh, and God creates them both. Our bodies and souls only live as God animates them. When our bodies have endured sins’s wages, death, the Lord’s ruach will breath life back into them for those who believe in Jesus, and resurrect our physical bodies to eternal life.

Back to chapter 37. the Lord tells Ezekiel that these bodies are “the whole house of Israel.” No doubt Jews who take their Bible seriously believe the prophecy is only about the physical race and nation of the Israelites (they were not called Jews yet at this time), but for Christians these words have profound spiritual meaning; i.e. they have to do with restoring our relationship as sinners with a holy God.

The people of that time to whom Ezekiel was speaking were right to take hope in his words, that they would not be exiles forever, and that the Lord would bring them back to their land. They are told that both kingdoms will one day become one again. That of course happens, but when you put on the Jesus glasses, these words become all about him. First he speaks of “one king” to rule over the united kingdom, and this king will be “My servant David.” The only problem is that David died over 500 years before, so every Jew knew it wasn’t the actual King David who would be ruling one day, but the Messiah. This Messianic king would be in the line of David, from his seed. This is a consistent theme of the entire OT.

And we know this is more than a physical rule over a nation-state because

23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

Cleansing from sin can only happen one way, by it being paid for and a righteous being given that comes from God himself. And whatever fulfillment these verses had for the nation of Israel, we are told that the promises are not only temporal, but eternal. I have to quote from the final few verses because it is clear there is so much more going on here than land:

They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever.26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’”

No doubt John was thinking of these verses as he was writing Revelation. And again, children are never strangers to the covenant, but included in it. And the peace we now have with the holy and Living God is the replacement for the enmity and hostility that sin created in us. The gravitational pull of sin that we feel pretty much every minute of every day will be gone because God’s people in this land led by this King “will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees.” We will do this because he is the one who makes us holy!

Ezekiel 35 & 36 – Our God Turns Hearts of Stone to Hearts of Flesh

Chapter 35 is another prophecy against Edom, which goes into much greater detail than the prophecy against them in chapter 25. These people were “the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, who occupied the rugged country southeast of the Dead Sea.” The commentary from which this quote comes explains all the detail in the chapter. One thing stands out. The Lord promises in verse 9 that he will make it desolate, and its towns will not be inhabited forever. He has kept that promise to this day. The land this people once inhabited is a wasteland because they attempted to take advantage of Yahweh’s judgment on his people. Not a good idea.

Chapter 36 includes one of the great metaphors in all of scripture, the heart as stone turned to flesh. Ezekiel is fond of the phrase, the Sovereign Lord, and it’s used 15 times alone in this chapter! The word “sovereign” doesn’t exist in the Hebrew. Rather the phrase is God’s proper name, Yahweh Adonay. Most other translations use the Lord God. It is not a distortion at all, though, to say that the Lord God is sovereign because he is the creator and ruler of all things. He has the ultimate control of all things. I think that’s the idea Ezekiel is conveying here. Nothing happens with him controlling, willing, or permitting it, including transforming hearts of stone, lost, cold, rebellious hearts, to hearts of flesh, affection, and love. The following is from chapter 8 of my book, Keeping Your Kids Christian:

The Sovereign Lord tells Ezekiel to prophecy that God will restore Israel back to their land, and that they will once again prosper. In the middle of the prophecy we read these words:

24“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

Who does the acting here? Notice the seven “I will’s.” God does the work of saving his chosen people, and the eighth “I will” is the final result. And there are plenty more “I will’s” in this chapter. The one that stood out to me as I was discovering the Reformed Faith was God (surgically) removing the heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh. What a vivid juxtaposition, stone and flesh. Nothing is quite as inanimate (lifeless, dead, non-living, inorganic) as a stone. Flesh is alive, responsive, feeling, active. Those who are dead in their sins have hearts of stone, while those who are in Christ have hearts of flesh. Only the latter can believe, and only God himself can transform a human heart. Salvation requires divine surgery!

Some may argue this is metaphorical and only relates to the nation of Israel some six hundred years before Christ. As in much of the Old Testament, there is more than one meaning. Remember when Jesus said the Old Testament, all of it, was about him? Once you put on those Jesus glasses, passages like this take on a whole new meaning. Put them on and read, “I will save you from all your uncleanness” (v.29), or “On the day I cleanse you from all your sins . . . ” (v. 33), and you will know God is communicating more than what will happen to national Israel.

He tells them that he will again bless them in the land, which he does, but the idea of him cleansing them from “all” their sins can only refer to Christ. The cleansing from sin can only come when the wages of sin are fully paid. Sin must be atoned for. God’s wrath and judgment must be appeased. Justice must be done. In Christ, it was.

Ezekiel 34 – The Lord Himself is Our Good Shepherd

Chapter 34 is all about shepherds and sheep, metaphorically speaking, and powerfully points yet again to the divinity of Christ. Israel’s shepherds are terrible, even harmful to the Lord’s sheep, and the Lord will hold them accountable. And because no good shepherd could be found, he himself will become that good shepherd:

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. . . . 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

Jesus, no doubt referencing just this chapter, declares in John 10: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He also says of himself also possibly thinking of just these verses, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Notice who does the seeking. It isn’t us.

The one who does the seeking the NIV translates as “Sovereign Lord,” while other versions translate as “Lord God,” the Hebrew phrase being, Yahweh Adonay. The latter word, from Strongs, “the Lord (used as a proper name of God only).” It is THE Living God who will shepherd Israel, and Jesus says he IS that shepherd—hard to miss his claim of divinity there. And not only will he shepherd his people, but unlike the thief that “comes only to steal and kill and destroy, he has “come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.” That’s quite a claim, and one only God himself can pull off.

Like in other passages, there is both an historical as well as a spiritual dimension to the Lord’s promises. He will bring them physically back to the land, as we read about in Ezra and Nehemiah, but since all the OT points to and is about Christ, we learn here more about the nature of the salvation Jesus was to bring. The proud will be brought low, while the humble will be exalted. And in Christ God himself will not only be just, but as Paul says, the justifier of those who trust Jesus.

We also get hints of the Trinity in this chapter:

22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

So God himself will be the shepherd, but David will also be the shepherd. And since David died hundreds of years before these words were written by Ezekiel, this promise is Messianic. In some way, this Messiah would be both divine and human. Once Jesus had risen and explained all this to his followers, it made perfect sense. But imagine reading this prior to those events. It would have had to be confusing.

He speaks in the last verses of the chapter about blessing the people in the land with these touching words:

30 Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

He has to yet again remind them that they are human beings, and that he is their God. Their God will be their shepherd. This I think speaks to what I call the radical relational reversal. Something happens that turns him from their judge and executioner, to their shepherd. And we know it’s not something they can do, but that God himself does for them in Christ. The most unimaginable thing to Jesus followers, the cross and the resurrection, were the only way God could be just and the justifier. The only way he could make his enemies, we human rebels, into his people.

Ezekiel 33 – The Lord is Just in His Judgments

I noticed the words that start this chapter: “The word of the Lord came to me.” The phrase is used over and over again in Ezekiel’s book, and it occurred to me as I thought over the Old Testament stories I’ve read thus far that the Lord never speaks directly to his people. His words always need mediation. He dealt directly with the Patriarchs, but as soon as they are to be lead out of slavery in Egypt, Yahweh picks a man to be his representative. And none can enter the Holy of Holies except the High Priest, and that only once a year. Right after he tells us the Lord’s word came to him, the Lord says, “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them:” 

Why can’t or doesn’t the Lord speak directly to his people? The simple answer is that he is holy, and wholly other. There can be no confusion between Creator and created, and we by nature confuse the two. In fact, in our fallen nature and hubris, we want to usurp the Creator’s position and prerogatives, to be, as Satan said, like God. Most importantly, all OT mediators point to Christ because he is The Word. So when “the word of the Lord” comes to Ezekiel, it is Christ himself coming. The ultimate mediator on the cross, or because of it, becomes God himself become man. As Paul tells us:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus . . .

And through this mediator we were given direct access to the Holy of Holies when “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” and thus to God himself. To get this access we simply pray in Jesus name. No more prophets, no more priests. But the people in Ezekiel’s day didn’t have Jesus, so they had to go to prophets, or prophets to them, to hear the word of the Lord.

This word from the Lord tells Ezekiel he is to be a watchman, warning the people of the coming destruction. He is to tell them that they should turn from their sin, and if they don’t the destruction will be payment for their sin. But if they do turn from their sin, they can save themselves from the sword. What the Lord is doing is reminding them of their accountability, and that he doesn’t judge whimsically. The reason for the reminder is that the people are doing what is typical of all humans, saying the Lord is unjust, that he’s punishing them for nothing. But the Lord is very clear: they can turn from their wicked ways and live, or continue doing them and die. He implores them to turn from their evil ways in verse 11, then asks this:

Why will you die, O house of Israel?

An intriguing question, that. The Lord has established that the people are morally accountable for their actions. The question raises two assumptions that come to us from Pelagius and Augustine: the people either have the ability to turn from their wicked ways, or they don’t. Which assumption does Israel’s history support? I think we are driven to the conclusion that Augustine got it right. The answer to the Lord’s question might be that their impending physical death is a result of a current spiritual death. The inability of Israel to fulfill the demands of the covenant is the whole story of the OT, and points us to the one who did! And in our place (Isaiah 53). This is not to say that doing right has its own reward, and evil its consequences, only that we cannot attain true life, eternal life, of our own accord.

The remainder of the chapter tells us Jerusalem has finally fallen, and that the Lord plans to make it a desolate waste because of Israel’s sin. We’ve seen the message before, that the people say the right religious stuff, but their hearts aren’t in it, but are far from the Lord. They hear the prophets words, but deny their truth. They have itching ears that hear only what they want to hear. I love the way it’s put in the penultimate verse:

32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

As Jesus tells us, wisdom is proved right by her actions.