Friday, July 29, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel

I’ve been reading through the book of Ezekiel in my personal devotions lately. I thought it might be helpful (at least to me) if I were to blog some reflections from these times. I have a couple thoughts from the first few chapters that I may develop later, but today I wanted to share some reflections from Ezekiel 5-7.

In sending Ezekiel to speak to Jerusalem in chapter five, God speaks in no uncertain terms of the destruction that will come. Because of their gross and ongoing rebellion against him, God proclaims through the prophet in Ezekiel 5:8-9, “Behold, I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again,”

Now the annals Greek and Roman mythology are replete with examples of gods who become upset at the actions of mortals, and then lash out in anger against them. But we need to understand that what is occurring here is quite different. Far from being the vindictive ragings of a spiteful deity, what we see here are the declarations of the impending righteous judgments of a holy God, judgments that come with a very specific purpose.

What exactly is this purpose? From 5:13 to the end of chapter 7, there is a constant refrain, repeated no fewer than ten times: “I am the LORD.” In seven of these instances, the phrase follows a slightly more expanded formula, pointing us even more directly to the reason that stands behind the LORD’s actions: “They/you shall know that I am the LORD.”  Phrases indicating that someone will “know that I am the LORD” are found in the pages of Scripture 88 times. An astounding 72 of these occur in Ezekiel. Clearly, one of the primary purposes God is trying to accomplish in this book is that people would “know that I am the Lord.”

If we are to truly understand the depth of meaning in this phrase though, the first occasions on which it is used go a long way to helping us. In Exodus 6:7 God says to the nation of Israel, as they are bound in Egyptian slavery, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”  One chapter later, God shows that his desire for such knowledge is not limited to the people of Israel when he proclaims in Exodus 7:5, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

What binds these two uses together is the fact that it is through God's mighty works that both his people and the nations might know who he his: He is the LORD. So his acts of judgment are not a matter of vindictiveness, but of vindication. They are the means by which they (and we) might see who he truly is. This is especially true of his act of judgment at the cross, for there we see most clearly the nexus of his perfect holiness and his steadfast love.

Far too often, I fear, we fall dreadfully short of bringing these two concepts together. Our relativistic culture tends to emphasize the fact that “God is love” (which of course is 100% true) but neglects the fact that God is also holy and demands our holiness (which is equally true). We want to set our own standards, ignoring God's revealed will, and going on thinking that he's content to have people merely give intellectual ascent to the possibility of his existence.

I suppose that there are also some within the church who react to this by swinging too far in the opposite direction, always emphasizing God's holy requirements, but doing so at the expense of his perfect love. Let me be clear that this is equally wrong. God wants us to do neither of these, but rather is jealous that he receive not only partial glory, but the glory due his name.

Even in this, there is a nuance which we need to understand. When we demand that credit be given to us (even when we've earned it) it is usually a betrayal of the fact that we want to be reassured of our own value and adequacy. For God though, when he demands glory, it is not because he has an inferiority complex. Rather it is because he rightly realizes his superiority, and knows that what is best for us is to realize it too.

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