Ezekiel 47

This is a picture of abundant blessing. In Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple, a river flows out from it, growing longer,wider and deeper the further, bringing life and blessing to all the land it passes through. The fruit of trees that grow near it bring healing, the leaves bring blessing.

It flows into the valley of the dead sea, so salty that not much lives there, and it makes everything new, a new creation.

At this point it’s obviously a spiritual parable about the hope that is revealed in the whole Bible about god’s love and promises.

It’s like Ezekiel’s vision picked up the deep longing of the exiled people, after the news in chapter 33 that the temple had fallen. It started where their hearts were, talking about restoration of the nation to a new better temple. But now the vision has enlarged to restoration of all creation.

We talked about heaven as a family the other day, the three of us. A rare event. We’ve seen it, we’ve seen it this week that this world is a blueprint for how heaven could be. Maybe heaven is a future plan of God, a new place of escape.

But we know what heaven is like, and there’s no reason not to start now, doing what we can to make our world match god’s blueprint for existence.

The last day in Queenstown South Island, before flying back to the North Island. We stayed in a airBnB that was pretty much a glass box with views about this wide, but water level, of this beautiful lake city. Rennie and I rode down that track on cute little carts. I remembered, on the gondola and chair ride up, that I’m more afraid of heights than I remember.

Ezekiel 46

I don’t think I’m the only one losing patience ever so politely with Ezekiel at this point. Another Leviticus-type chapter detailing worship in the temple, different in minor ways from the mosaic law given back in the Torah.

Reading some of the commentators… A lot of explaining and unpacking of the mechanics and process being described, not a lot of why and what does it signify?

The set-up is the very pure holiness of God, as represented by the priests and the sacrifices in a part of the temple the people can’t get to. This we had in the first temple. A new element is the Prince, for whom the gate between the people and the holy bit is opened.

When he is before them and among them, they are able to see and worship as the sacrifices occur making peace with God.

Then there are laws that clarify that the inheritance of the children of the Prince is permanent. It is to reset every year of jubilee, so any of his wealth anyone else has returns to his children.

This is a bit of an odd flip on the concept of jubilee, which up till now I thought of as the cancelling of debts every 25 years. Here it extends to property rights stemming from debt, as if the bank cancelled your mortgage debt to them, but also your ownership of the house. Not such an appealing plan practically but it makes a point about being children of the Prince.

Its not hard to see messianic elements to the Prince, Isaiah’s phase “Prince of peace”, which became a title for Jesus, comes to mind. But it is hard to understand.

I’ll leave it in hold and think more.

Rennie, my son, has gone home to start school. Kelly and I have an extra week by ourselves of holiday. We see her sister Wendy today, and for a couple of days.

Not sure how that will go. She’s been in a rough spot in her life and marriage, and she’s a complex person at the best of times.

I’ve already started having a bit of forboding about going back, which I suppose is inevitable in a holiday scenario.

I’m doing some precessing about who I am and the way our family works. I don’t understand why I had this holiday, but I think it will cause some changes to the way I operate that will be good but maybe a bit difficult in the short term.

Together in Queenstown before Rennie returned. Like the South of France in the South of NZ.

Ezekiel 45

Lots of detail about the land, the rituals, the adminstration of the priesthood and the temple in Jerusalem.

Some say it is allegorical. Others say the wealth of very specific detail shows it is intended to be literal instructions.

Either way, it hasn’t been realised. What if God had given all the instructions for Noah’s Ark but the story said that the ark was never actually built? We’d have a plan for saving the animals to think about. This is like that I think, a plan for a holy city for us to think about.

Features include:

– It is owned by and for all.

– There is no King only leaders (a prince) who adminsters the city according to God’s will, and whom the Jewish scholars saw as Messiah.

– It is fair, God is very concerned about honesty in small things.

– It is God’s. Set aside and kept for God and God’s people.

I’m still living a dream in this longest and most indulgent holiday I’ve ever had. I wonder if because I don’t really do holidays, I’ve gone a bit over the top.

Yesterday we toured the Fiordland national Park in New Zealand’s wild South west. On a ferry through doubtful sound, I was moved to tears at the majesty. The Elivs Costello song “all this useless beauty” came to mind. So many lakes, mountains, rivers sitting there untouched. Barely used even by animals. New Zealand traditionally really only had birds.

God set up beautiful systems that churn away, making paradises. Regenerating rather than depleting, as most of our systems seem to do. God’s is an abundance model.

The city of God? Let’s build Jerusalem, among these green and pleasant hills. Rennie has been confident enough to talk openly about his spiritual views on life, aware that they are different from mine, for which I am grateful. I think it’s a bit intimidating for him to open up to me.

This very apt Maori poem from the region reminded me of the universal nature of human experience:

“My eyes are filled with tears, at the sight of the mountains of Takitimu, and the mountains of Manawapouri. Would that I were a bird, that I might fly forth; would that I might obtain wings”

Doubtful sound

Ezekiel 44

A chapter about the renewal of the priesthood to Levitical standards, part of a series of visions about the restored temple in Jerusalem after Israel’s exile to Babylon. The reality in history fell woefully short, despite a brief but passionate revival of national religious fervour that tore many mixed families apart.

It all seems quite remote, I must say from my holiday. Here we are white water rafting

That’s me Kelly and Rennie in the back, and our friends Kirsten and Taylor in front. Within seconds Kirsten was victim of an involuntary kick from Taylor and out of the boat!

The integration of the local Mouri culture is much more natural and ever-present in NZ than aboriginal culture in Oz. We recited a cheiftan’s blessing before we went over this waterfall, and were told the story of how deceased chief’s bodies were left by the river at the bottom of the fall to be taken to eternity by the next flood.

80% tourist moonshine, no doubt. It has a good dramatic effect building tension for the most dangerous part of the trip. It was interesting how much the guides apologised for the religious element. The expectation that people will object to spirituality. But the acknowledgement of indigenous life is everywhere here.

So…

On the one hand God, in a vision of perfect Judaism. The priest of the right race, gender, tribe, subset of tribe, wearing the right clothes, on the right day, after the right rituals, may enter the chamber adjacent to the chamber where God is.

God is radioactive. Impossible.

On the other hand, the popular spirituality: watered down, apologised for, used for cultural background to a tourist experience.

What a gulf.

The whole Ezekiel passage is thrown off balance by a reference to a “prince” in v3 who can be before god, who rabbis identify as the messiah.

And I believe Jesus is there, to bridge the gulf.

But this holidays, I’m feeling the size of the gulf, even so. 

 

 

Ezekiel 43

Something happens in the dream temple this chapter, the glory of God arrives. It is in the same form as the amazing visions that opened the book: a big gleaming stack of images of God with Jesus on top. Its reappearance brings the book to a full circle.

And there is, to me, a pretty big hint of why it doesn’t really matter whether this temple is ever actually built.

Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider its perfection

The idea of it is powerful by itself, for illustrating god’s standard to the people. The vision then talks about being accepted by God, through the sacrifices in this unbuilt temple.

The vision is a reminder of what God hates, a call to recommit to God, and a promise of acceptability by God.

Spent a lovely holiday day with two friends, mother and daughter, on a road trip to the hot springs of Rotorua.

Here’s Kelly and Ren in the soda pool… Hotter than a comfortable bath in several places, from gas bubbling up into it from… hell? I dunno! With blessing from God coming down in the form of light, obviously, too.

Another day here, and then we head down to Wellington, the launchpad for the South Island.

The two 16 year olds are getting along fine, seem to have the ease they had in primary school, even though it’s been years.

Ren is asking some really stimulating and awkward questions about morality and religion that I find difficult to have the space, in the dynamic, to answer. It’s a pity because obviously I have a lot of thoughts about all that stuff, so I hope I get an opportunity to. But it’s really nice and comfortable and relaxing so far. And I’m loving the luxury of time. There is nowhere if rather be, no other people I’d rather be with.

Ezekiel 42

So we’ve started our holiday, our first night overnight in New Zealand at a friend’s house. Myself, Kelly (wife) and Rennie (16 son) staying with a family we met at Ren’s school, they have a daughter the same age. I’ve missed them a lot, they were our goto bored-on-a-Friday night dinner companions for quite a few years when they lived in Sydney.

Wonderful, creative, hilarious people. Improbably, we shared Christmas quite often too, not remotely sharing a faith but enjoying each other’s company and the weirdness of Christmas culture together anyway.

Today we head off on a road trip which I hope isn’t too onerous, the First three days down the North island with our friends, and then on down the South island just us three.

The Bible passage today has yet more detail about the temple, today particularly the holy rooms where the priests changed clothes to go and offer sacrifices within the layers and layers of holiness that led to the presence of God.

Before they can mingle with anyone else, they must change back out of the special clothes.

Remembering how comfortable and included I felt in our circle of quite Bohemian people, how much I admire them, and aware often of how far short of God’s holiness I am, the emphasis on holiness as an unattainable standard is confronting. Even I, a god botherer, feel so inadequate, how much more distant from God could my atheist friends be?

But Jesus was inclusive. And when he died, the curtain in the temple that separated humankind from God was torn in two.

It’s a lesson in love. A revelation of the cost of love. Unless you know there is a cost, you won’t know how deep it is.

Like when children grow up with loving parents and go out into the world, and have the prodigal son’s realisation that the world is a lot harsher than home.

They learn the hard way to value and crave the love they took for granted at home. They go back getting a little ashamed, pathetic and uncertain. And there is God running down the field in joy to celebrate, wrap them in an embrace and feast with them.

Holiness helps us comprehend God’s pain and joy in loving us.

I’m feeling very open to joy and adventure as we set out on this holiday.

Ezekiel 41

Another chapter of Ezekiel relating detail from God about the design and dimensions of a temple to replace the destroyed temple of Solomon.

One commentator compared it to people who plan to build a house, and the pleasure they get from obsessing on the plans or going to the empty block of land, to pace out a dusty plot imagining where their kitchen and bedrooms will be.

For the Israelites stuck in Babylon without hope, it was no doubt a wonderful source of comfort and hope. And they did get back as promised, and build a temple. They had these plans but not the resources to execute them for the second temple.

Never having planned an overseas holiday before, a had friends warning me when to start booking things, and I realised you don’t have to just just turn up to a place and look for a car hire place and some accommodation, then get out a map and figure out what to see. In fact, it’s probably a really bad idea.

Heeding their advice, planning the itinerary and filling it in with bookings, watching the back account disappear, I started to see why people get so addicted to travel. It got exciting. I see how people use it as an escape, sitting in their dull offices planning this little heaven, this holiday.

I’ve always been turned off by feeling sad that is so short, and guilty that it’s so indulgent. I still feel that a bit, but I won’t die having never done it I suppose.

And despite the greed it can inspire, the arguable waste of resources it can represent, that part of us that imagines something better and dreams and schemes to make it happen is a connection to the divine.

Ezekiel 40

Visions shouldn’t have too much detail in my view, so I’m not mad on this chapter. It is the start of a series of eight about god’s vision of the temple, given to Ezekiel.

It has a nerdy amount of detail. Of course various architects and historians have tried to visualise it, demonstrating that for all it’s detail, it’s still incredibly ambiguous.

It would have looked liked like this:

Or these

The last one’s my fave.

There have been two temples in Jerusalem, Solomon’s, and the second one they built upon return to Jerusalem. The return Ezekiel has been waiting for and prophesying about all though this book.

The second temple was so disappointing that the old people who remembered Solomon’s cried when it opened.

I think that is why this vision is here, personally, to make it very clear how disappointing the second temple was to God as well.

The Bible thrives on plan B’s, second best and paradigm shifts, as I have observed before.

The plan God’s gave to Ezekiel is many times larger than Solomon’s. The one they actually built was significantly smaller.

The whole tone of the end of the old testament history: Ezra, Nehemiah, and the return to Jerusalem, is of inadequacy. The O.T. ends with a whimper. And not by accident, I don’t think.

It’s saying, I think, that there must be more than these buildings and these animal sacrifices, surely. The second temple they built was manifestly NOT the temple God’s wanted. So what is the plan? It’s setting up Jesus. God in us, our bodies as God’s temple.

My beloved, generally not whacky, Enduring Word commentary takes the Millennial view: that there will be a literal 1000 year reign of Jesus on earth when he returns, and Jesus will spend his time project-manging the construction of a third temple to this literal design.

Some Christians even want to get on with it in advance. They see God’s work for us as creating conditions where the millennium can occur. That’s why some of the visualisations above are modern-ish, with 1980s shopping mall/ public-library-style materials and finishes. This dream is still alive!

I’m going to be doubting Thomas on that one: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Modern orthodox Jews have a very wise approach to the third temple, from what I can gather from Wikipedia. They reject all this scheming and say that if God wants to do it, then God will. It’s not for us to plan.

In the meantime, in practice the mosques that are there in the likely temple site are respected, and the access rules established in negotiation with Islamic leaders are enforced by the Israeli government and police.

I can live with that. It’s kind of a perfect outcome.

Today is the first day of my holidays. No more work until February!

The idea that we live in a rather broken world, of excellent intention, randomly offering glimpses of heaven, of mediocrity and disaster, seems inescapable right now.

Bushfires have skirted around the homes of a number of people I know and love, and taken many others

We get these visions of perfection, of completed patterns in our heads, but we live with a different kind of improvisational beauty that comes from bringing Grace to ordinary moments, and comfort to pain.

I think the perfection is a distraction from our work and purpose.

Jesus with his vague itinerary, his undisriminating approach to disciple recruitment, his generally by-the-seat-of-the pants approach to the specifics of his day, showed us that perfect execution of detailed planning will not necessarily set us free. Life about getting the spiritual priorities right.

Ezekiel 39

Another prophesy about the Viking-style raiders led by Gog who will attack the restored Israel, after they are finally bought back from the exile in Babylon.

It seems like a story of grace. The Israelites took the promised land initially by a form of God-aided conquest.

Having lost it by faithlessness, it is restored again to them by grace, not by conquest.

A government decree, a change of policy as the Persians replace the Babylonians, returns the land to them. Simple as that.

And then the raiders, the hostile nations, are overcome by confusion. Boom, threat gone.

The picture is of peaceful, unprotected farms being kept safe by god’s hand. The spears, shields and arrows of the raiders become firewood for years after. Their hostility was futile.

Our ability to forget the goodness of God is epic. So of course the grace didn’t stop the Israelites bring faithless again. But Christ came into the restored nation of Israel, as prophesied.

God’s grace really is unfathomable, it’s so deep. I’m ashamed to say, given the job of writing about grace yesterday, preparing some Easter materials, I was lazy and slow, disengaged. I hope I do better today! What a privilege.

God’s love towards Israel, and by extension, god’s demonstrated love for the whole world though that Israelite Jesus, is unstoppable. It persists through endless rejections, trivialities, brutalities, amnesia and blasphemies on our part.

Those who know it have a shameless entitlement to it.

The prodigal knew his father would welcome him, on some level, though perhaps he was surprised when his father ran though the field to embrace him.

Peter, when he saw Jesus after denying him three times, jumped in the water from his fishing boat and ran to shore in wet clothes to the welcome of restored grace he knew he would get from Jesus. He also scored a fish barbeque after a night of futile work.

Behold what manner of love God has for us!

Ezekiel 38

Leave it to heaven.

This is about Gog and Magog. Gog a leader, Magog a place.

They are easily mythologised as hostile nations. Ezekiel says they will attack the restored Israel. They return in the book of Revelation, in a final battle that is the end of opposition to God’s rule.

Islamic texts refer to them as well, as unruly attackers of civilisation. Vikings.

Ironically it’s the Islamic nations who would be seen as unruly today, by Christians affearded of attack. And the LGBTQI lobby can get pretty hostile, not entirely without cause.

Whatever; the message is that God will not be thwarted by hostile nations. God will be victorious, hostility will suffer defeat.

Another approach is not to let difference breed hostility.

Christians who aren’t afraid of multiculturalism or xenophobic, and moderate Islamic people… (pretty much all Muslims in Australia), are able to agree to differ, embrace tolerance and get along just fine.

Radical Muslims and their Christian equivalents: racists who regard the loss of Anglo Saxon dominance as an existential threat to their safety and culture, are sources of hostility.

With LGBTQI issues, I think there ought to be scope for a range of Christian attitudes, from thinking it’s a non issue to thinking queer lifestyles are not god’s plan, which don’t involve hostility. Abortion is not god’s plan, divorce is not, any heterosexual sex, even lustful thoughts, outside of marriage, is not god’s plan.

We need to leave the judgement to God. No matter how dimly we view any of those things, we need to stay Kingdom-focussed and grace focussed. Who did Jesus view as hostile, other than the chisler money-changers in the temple, the Pharisees and the Sadducees?

He wept for the people, who were like sheep in need of a shepherd, forgave the roman overlords (they don’t know what they are doing), watched the rich young ruler walk away sadly, and in his story the Samaritan was the neighbour.