Ezekiel overview

The Lord is here, present. In me, now.  God had to break the paradigm of being present only in the holy of holies in the temple in Jerusalem. We’re used to it now, but imagine if we’d only ever known the temple system.

This book narrates that shift, against the backdrop of Jerusalem being destroyed, from the margins of it, in exile in Babylon.

God arrives spectacularly, a gleaming Prince atop a rolling throne, in the visions that commence the book.

Much time is spent making it clear that Jerusalem is done for, the dream is gone, and deservedly so. Very, very deserved. Because of very familiar arrogance, corruption and apathy.

The centre of gravity has shifted to the exiles, longing to get back to the action. They are now the action, they are the ones who were saved from the destruction. There is no there there in Jerusalem any more.

God is in hearts of flesh.

God is Spirit that breathes life to dry bones.

God is a prince, the Messiah.

The rolling vision of God from the start of the book inhabits a crazily detailed temple of dreams that has not been, and I think will not ever be, built in stone, on earth.

The Prince stands in the gap between God’s impossible holiness and our endemic imperfection.  A river of healing flows out from the temple of dreams across the whole earth, and we are all children of the Prince.

There is no longer a literal Jerusalem of the promised land.  The city that continues by that name has no special claim to God’s presence.

God is here, as I write and think.

I wrote my thoughts about Ezekiel mostly against the backdrop of a wonderful holiday in New Zealand, which now seems like a beautiful dream. God seemed present there, in the majestic, often starkly empty South island.

Challenges awaited ahead, when upon return I was blindsided by a very cold loss of my job, the financial security of our family. I’ve been wondering if, like Ezekiel, God is telling me to spend a year in my house, lying on my side, staring at a saucepan.

This book has a lot of pain, but trusting God’s plan when logic and experience fails can require us to see visions past the pain of loss. 

The rolling presence of God preparing Ezekiel

1 a vast vision of Gods presence in a time when the temple is destroyed, the land lost
2 preparing Ezekiel to be a prophet, a message of pain and lament, an expectation of resistance
3 overcoming Ezekiel’s negativity. Armoured within and without, called to be a watchman: deliver a message, not worry if it is acted on.

Performance art about Israel’s fall

4 Ezekiel’s wordless sermon is a performance art installation about the destruction of Jerusalem. It goes on about a year.
5 more Street theatre with glimpses of the horrible suffering of the siege of Jerusalem. I think about how evil destroys itself, the nature of judgement and learning.
6 the promised land won’t lose its symbolic allure until it is lost. Sometimes hope must die before evil will lose its grip.

Announcing the death of hope in what is lost, listeners refuse to accept

7 a chapter of unrelenting gloom and judgement. “Then they will know that I am God”
8 worshipping lies, sex, money and power, Ezekiel’s vision of the corruption of the temple is referenced by too many Christian critics today.
9 a vision of the temple without God, given over to idols and the few of the remnant that will escape the fall of the city
10 the glory of the lord leaves the temple, I compare the verse about no lamb being
snatched from the good shepherd
11 God has flipped the script. E thought he was being punished by being in exile, but he’s actually being spared judgement
12 the people are in denial about the visions of God judging Jerusalem
13 condemnation of easy prophets, who whitewash messages
14 the leaders around Ezekiel are hostile but recognise they have to give him a chance to speak. But he can’t speak into hostility

Analogies about why Israel must be judged, leading to the fall of Jerusalem

15 a vision of Israel as a dead vine. We can cut ourselves off from the author of life and bit notice straight away
16 Israel’s addiction to idols, despite being God’s chosen nation is compared to prositution.  Cheap grace comes with deep shame. 
17 A tree analogy compares the dumb moves of the last Israelite Kings to the grace of the true King, like a flourishing tree sustaining much life. 
18 About how you can have a new heart, sin is historical but also personal. We all have the choice and freedom to face it, repent of it it and accept Gods grace
19 A lament over the betrayals of Kings who led them so badly. Lament is the start of pointing our frustrations and pain back to God, not being consumed by them.
20 The leaders and people’s response to the truth Ezekiel is speaking: they won’t understand, they accuse him of speaking in parables.
21 The sword of God’s judgement terrifies us in our perpetually unresolved state, mortal and immortal. But Jesus was there too.
22 In societies of inequality, of disadvantage vs greed, like theirs, like ours, Jesus stands in the gap
23 Israel’s sin compared to prostitution. God is concerned about alliances – who we get in bed with and why. In him we find constant love, not loveless lives of self serving alliances
24 The fall of Jerusalem, 10 years into his ministry, accompanied by two signs to Ezekiel in exile in Babylon: a vision of a ruined cooking pot and the death of his wife, who he is told not to mourn.

About other nations: Tyre

25 Israel is assured neighbouring nations will be judged too. I contemplate the morality of the blame game
26 Still considering other nations, we are not here for shadenfreude, God hates that
27 the imprint of God in our brilliant creative civilisations; the curse of death in their fragility.
28 God’s deep love for Tyre – by extention all of us – how it hurts God that their arrogance blinds them to it.
29 God’s love for Egypt, Babylon and Tyre: just because their stories are not told in such detail as Israel for biblical narrative purposes, doesn’t mean they aren’t loved

About Egypt

30 Israel’s temptation to go back to Egypt. When God breaks your circumstances, look forward in trust in the will of Yahweh, not backward to the idealised comforts of your slavery.
31 God compares Egypt to a tree, magnificent but locked into time, it will fall. At Christmas, I contemplate mortality and opportunity for Grace.
32 Egypt’s weakening and fall into sheol, the neverworld of substandard eternity, where there is a consolation of sorts, of losing your pride when you realise you are one of many

Israel and Edom

33  The first confirmation of Israel’s fall arrives, and the optimistic verses of the prophets that dismissed Ezekiel’s gloom sounds like empty sweet insincere love songs.
34 sheep metaphors to talk about reasonable verses selfish lives, coming at a time of maximum lazy indulgence on my part.
35 New year’s prayer in the light of God’s justice, a terrifying prospect without also God’s grace.

Hearts of flesh, bones that live

36  promise of beating hearts of flesh, not stone. And cleansing rain to wash away our idols from our hearts
37 My favourite passage as a child. The bones trick and the stick trick, God’s transformation of people and nations

Hostile nations confused by grace

38  Gog and Magog, b rulers and£ nations. A discussion of tolerance and hostility

39 A promise of peace, rather than victory over hostile nations. A vision of living in God’s grace rather than fighting.

The City of the unbuilt temple

40 Start of a very detailed vision of a temple that was never built. Why has God given us this?
41 Giving the people the dream of a vast new temple, scenes and dreams that motivate us mark us as spiritual beings.
42 the glimpse of God’s extreme holiness in the temple ritual serves to emphasise the extreme lovingness of Jesus’ life and death
43 Good comes to the temple. Why the temple vision is given: a reminder of God’s goodness, a call to recommit, and a promise of forgiveness
44 A Prince, a Messiah, will bridge the gulf between God’s impossible holiness and our impossible obedience
45 What it means for God to have given us a plan for an unbuilt City to think about
46 bit of a weird chapter making the point that the children of the Prince (/Messiah) retain his inheritance forever.
47 the temple vision spoke to the deepest longing of the exiled Jews, this speaks of the river that does from it and speaks to the whole world’s deepest longing.
48  the city of the unbuilt temple is called the Lord is there. And God is present, right here, right now, and we are building that city

 

 

Ezekiel 48

End of Ezekiel and right at the end of my super long holiday.

I forgot to mention, I think, a key detail at the end of chapter 47. Foreigners living in the land being allotted to Israel’s tribes are to be treated as equals. They share the land with the tribe, them and their children, according to where they happen to be. The tribe they find themselves in becomes their tribe.

How different from the early mosaic law about not including outsiders. And different from how it actually played out in Ezra and Nehemiah, the accounts of the return from exile, where the families were torn apart.

It’s an inclusive vision. It’s a vision of access. There is a gate in the holy city for every tribe to come.

I called the city Jerusalem, but a canny commentator raised that in all the visions of the last section, it is not actually named. Ezekiel/God saved that dramatically for the last verse of the huge maddening book.

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

The Lord is there”

As with most visions in the Bible, its truth does double duty in the near and far. For its time it gave hope and confidence to the forgotten people lost in Babylon, hearing news of the destruction of their culture and beliefs.

It’s still a great message of hope, for indigenous and marginalised people, anyone without hope.

Also for rich evangelicals like me faced with choices about whether our culture or God’s eternal truth matter more. The core truths that survive exile clarify what can be let go. Jesus’ new wine that should burst the old wineskins each time we share in it.

The book started with God’s presence coming right out to that forgotten place near a river in Babylon, for Ezekiel. It ends announcing God’s presence for all with these pictures of new beating hearts of flesh, dry bones breathed to life and an inclusive holy city of God’s presence following out like a river across the world

The extraordinarily beautiful black sand beaches of Karekare and Piha on the West coast of NZ (just a stone’s throw from the East coast really). We go home tomorrow evening.

The psalmists didn’t need to visit New Zealand to write about considering their place among the wonders God has made, or the heavens telling the glory of God. I won’t pretend this is necessary.

But I’ve loved being here, and it has helped me remember, after the apocalyptic fires back home, that the creation God already did is enough. I don’t need a better heaven as much as a better heart. I can be part of building God’s holy city here now.

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.