Reverence to the Lord – A Study of Ezekiel

Introduction

Why read Ezekiel? Only a very few would name the book as their favorite. Its strangeness and the difficulty to understand it are certainly primary reasons. Even Jewish rabbis have struggled with it, especially its beginning and ending. What does the vision of the wheel within the wheel mean? How can Ezekiel’s temple vision at the end of the book be harmonized with the regulations prescribed by Moses in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible)? In fact, Ezekiel was stringently studied by Jewish scholars before it was even allowed recognition as God-inspired text (Canonical Scripture).

However, we shouldn’t avoid this book merely because of its difficulties, since it is recognized as God-breathed text and is both comprehensible and of deep profit to those whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit. As with any of the Scriptures, our primary goal in studying should be to seek what the Holy Spirit would reveal to us, how we can be corrected, and how we will be developed in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Ezekiel was by the Kebar River in Babylonia in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile when the prophetic visions began (Ezekiel 1:1-3). He was among the first group of exiles taken to Babylon. Judah was weakly intact, and Jerusalem was still standing. The exiled people were hoping for a quick end to their enforced captivity, so they could return to the Holy Land. Many false prophets had arisen to feed them false encouragement that their exile would soon end. Ezekiel tells them the ugly truth: Judah would be severely judged and Jerusalem destroyed.

The northern kingdom, Israel, had been conquered and taken into captivity by Assyria, whose policy was to split the peoples up and disperse them all over the empire. Breaking up old ties and reliances, it was their plan to keep the defeated peoples disorganized and disoriented. Eventually, they would lose their original ethnic identity and would just become “Assyrians.” In this fashion, the northern kingdom was effectively destroyed.

When Judah was first overcome by Babylon, the exile policy was drastically different. All the conquered leaders, skilled workers, and affluent of society, were taken into the heart of Babylon and were treated quite well. They were allowed to settle in groups and to advance within the empire. While their strength added to that of Babylon’s, it left the outer reaches of the empire impoverished, leaderless, unskilled, and hardly able to rebel. The treatment of the exiles however, allowed for the preservation of God’s people, and for the possibility of a future return to the land of Judah—a return that did take place!

The first and overarching theme of Ezekiel is the sovereignty and holiness of God. Ezekiel’s opening vision of God’s glory comforts the readers that the Divine Presence had indeed accompanied them into exile. One reason for such an opening was to demonstrate that God was still God and had not abandoned His people. His love and presence were constant.

The people had failed to give appropriate reverence to the LORD, feeling distressed and deserted (Ezekiel 37:11). To them, the issues seemed to be (1) What use was God when He was unwilling or unable to protect His own land?…(2) How could He allow the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to be defiled?…(3) Why would God allow His chosen people to be taken into exile?…(4) Even if He intervened now for His land, how would that help the Jews taken into exile? These were the questions the prophet had to address. But the real answers were not to be found from the human perspective—God was God, and He always would be God, and man’s responsibility was not to question Him, but to give the LORD the reverence He deserved.

Had God been ejected from His temple, or had He withdrawn His presence from Jerusalem by free will? Was He retreating from an inability to defend what was His, or was there a greater design in His plans than merely defending a piece of real estate? The answers might be simpler for us to see than it was for the exiled people, since they were the ones who had suffered immensely from the Babylonian invasion and the siege of Jerusalem. Perhaps if we could picture the most gruesome human suffering imaginable, then multiply that horror a hundredfold; if we could place ourselves into the very shoes of the people who’d witnessed the brutal slayings, the wretched starvation, the fiery destruction and desecration of a land and city always prized as the holiest in the world, and had themselves only just managed to survive the horrific onslaught, we would most likely be treating God with the same questioning defiance. Ezekiel was called by God to remind His ravaged people that He was indeed Sovereign and Holy, and that there was a divine design in all that had befallen Judah.

The second noted theme in Ezekiel contrasts bitterly with the first: the total sinfulness of men. To be aware of God’s holy glory is to realize as well the awful gulf and depravity of sin. Sin can’t be swept under the carpet; it can’t be beautified, dismissed, or ignored. It is ugly, dirty, and offensive, and can’t coexist with God’s Holy Presence. This idea introduces the third theme: that judgment is inescapable. Yet, although it is difficult to understand when judgment has fallen, it is always God’s intent that judgment leads to restoration. This leads to the fourth theme of Ezekiel: the return of the King to a new temple, and a full restoration of the Jews to the land of blessing and promise.

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