Friday, September 13, 2013

Ezekiel

I finished reading Ezekiel, and I also read Joel this week.  It wasn't as sad as Jeremiah, but it was still sad.  Ezekiel 33:32, might be the sadest line in the whole book, "And, lo, thou art to them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument:  for they hear thy words, but they do them not." The prophetic language was more difficult than Isaiah though.  I am trying to imagine the cherubims and their wheels, and I can't really. They are so unlike anything that otherwise exists in God's creation. I even halfway entertained the thought that perhaps all of this is symbolic and these are not literal descriptions, but I threw that idea out.  I read the beginning of the book to Gary on the way to Old Carroll the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. We debated some ideas in the car, and then while everyone was visiting, the topic came up. So I listened to Bro. Jonathan, Bro. Brian, and Gary debate it and discuss many of the spiritual lessons. They had a lot of rich stuff, too much to relate since I didn't begin to get my thoughts on "paper" earlier.  However, one illustration that Bro. Brian had I really liked and it tied in with some of the other passages that jumped out at me.

God, perhaps the person of Jesus from the description, calls Ezekiel to be a prophet, and over and over he tells him that the people are rebellious.  No joke, he uses that word 7 times in describing Israel, he also calls the imprudent, stiffhearted, hardhearted, and compares them to scorpions, briers and thorns. He tells Ezekiel that no one will hear him and regard his message. But he also tells him that he will make him tough enough, strong enough for his job,
Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. -Ezekiel 3:8-9
After Ezekiel has sat silent, and pondered his vision for seven days, The Lord speaks to him again and tells him that he is making him a watchman.  Just as an actual watchman would stand on the wall to alert all of trouble approaching, Ezekiel was to warn of trouble on the spiritual horizon. It is a grave charge, of the utmost responsibility.
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul. -Ezekiel 3:17-21
Today the application is largely to pastors. Like Ezekiel they are the watchmen on the walls of Zion, like the trumpets were to give a certain sound under Moses and Joshua when they lead to the Children of Israel to and into the Promise land, pastors are instructed to watch and to clearly teach the flock in their care in the way that God would have us to live, and to alert us to dangers that they see, but we cannot.  Can you imagine the devastation that would fall if a watchman was asleep rather than at his post?  Or one that didn't take his duties seriously? Or one that saw trouble approach but just couldn't be bothered to go and alert anyone?  When a pastor comes to us in love seeing trouble afar off, isn't better for everyone involved to make preparations, change course, or whatever is necessary to weather or avert the storm? "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20) Poor Ezekiel had an even harder job though because God told him ahead of time that no one would listen.

Bro. Brian relayed that he had heard a sermon once on the wheels and the angels. And that it had a wonderful spiritual truth that he had studied on and talked with various ministers about, and many agreed with. The cherubim is a type of angel, and angel merely means messenger.  Additionally, in Revelation the pastors of the seven Churches of Asia Minor were referred to as angels.  The minister of God is like the Cherubim in many ways he has many facets:  the patient burden bearing ox, the fierce lion to defend the truth, the eagle that soars high mediating on God's word, who can see trouble afar, and yet he is still a man.  The Cherubim has straight feet like a calf, likewise the man of God must have sturdy feet being grounded in truth, and in his day to day walk.  He has to be able to navigate difficult situations and always follow "thus saith the word."  He has the hands of a man, to minister, to serve, to show compassion.  They have wings and are constantly on the move, seeming to never cease or rest in the service of God.  The wheel within a wheel, he envisioned as a gyroscope where they are perpendicular to one another. This enables them to move in any direction. The spiritual picture was one of the gospel, which can address any issue, go in any direction (II Timothy 3:16-17). It is the tool of the minister in tending the flock and gives us direction and purpose (Micah 6:8, Ecclesiastes 12:13). Like I said there was even more to that, but that point particularly jumped out at me in light of the charge given to Ezekiel.

The New Testament verses make it clear that this message can apply to anyone that sees trouble and fails to help a brother or sister who doesn't see the error or the danger, a parent caring for their child, a teacher a mentor. Each of us at some point is the one who needs help, and likewise, I think that there are times when we all see someone barreling down a road to heartache and pain, that they don't have to go through.  Ezekiel is faithful to his calling despite The Lord telling him that no one will listen, can we do the hard thing in confront a situation no matter how it might be taken?  I know from experience that it is so much easier to be non confrontational and just ignore it, and I have been on the receiving end only to get angry and be hard-headed.  It isn't an easy thing, but just sometimes when you approach in a meek and humble spirit and it is received likewise, then a great thing can happen - danger is averted and friendships are drawn closer. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." (Galatians 6:1)

These verses are about helping one another while we live here. They don't refer to some extraordinary push to "save souls" because only Christ could do that. That would be a burden too heavy for us to bear (Acts 15:10). Ezekiel so eloquently explains that no matter how righteous we are, we cannot trust in it, it cannot save us. Our good works can't outweigh or erase the iniquity in us. And those who He has saved, will not perish in our wickedness.  We are all wicked, we are all sinners (Romans 3). However we are taught that because of the great gift He gave us - one we didn't and couldn't earn, one that we didn't deserve in any way, shape, form, or fashion - BUT because of this gift we should repent, we should turn from wickedness and sin, and do our very best to live righteous lives. Not to get to Heaven, but to tell him thank you for Heaven.
Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth. When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it. -Ezekiel 33:12-13
When we don't give our human nature free reign, but follow the Spirit it is a beautiful thing.  We should bear up one another and submit ourselves to one another.  But even when we get in the flesh, and fail to walk like we should. No matter how scattered the sheep may become through their own willfulness or mismanagement of the under-shephard, "The Lord know to them that are His" (II Timothy 2:19). He will gather his people and care for them. He regenerates us, we rest in His atoning sacrifice, and He leads us.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. ... I will feed them in a good pasture, ... and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick:  -Ezekiel 34:11-16
Then will I ... cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. -Ezekiel 36:25-28
Sometimes we must be disciplined when we fail to heed to warnings and change our ways but he always is there to restore fellowship with His children. There is an incredible beautiful promise in Joel about true repentance. 
Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him;  -Joel 2:12-14
Sometimes we throw ourselves at His feet and He extends mercy but other times we still endure punishment. However he can restore it all to us and even more, think of Job.  And knowing that he has that power and desire to do us good, is comforting beyond all belief.
And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. -Joel 2:25-26

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