We were introduced the past chapter to a figure identified as the "prince". You need to understand the prince as less of an ideal royal figure than a civil ruler with immediate concrete tasks. He is given responsibilities and duties that have to be carried out. He is given property in Israel once the land is restored. He commands the prince, actually really scolds him, to put away violence and oppression and do what is just and right.
I don't think there is any correlation between Macchiavelli's Little Prince and this prince here in Ezekiel, but they both do govern and rule under the hand of God in some ways. We see the celebration of the passover reinstituted and commanded to be celebrated. The passover remains one of the most important of the religious events in the life of the Jewish people. Ezekiel continues to try to reinstate normalcy into the life of Israel even when it finds itself in a time that was anything but normal.
There is a significant transition that takes place here in this chapter in regards to who is in charge of the temple of the Lord. While in the past it was the Levites, the house of Levi, who had charge over the temple, this chapter shows a significant change. Now it is the house of Zadok, also from the Levites, who are to take charge over the temple. It is interesting that Ezekiel himself comes from that lineage, and so in many ways this was very self-benefitting for Ezekiel. Where does Zadok point to for his ancestry? Zadok was the priest who took over charge of the temple, or become the chief priest, under Solomon when he replaced Abiathar as chief priest. Zadok himself traced his heritage back to one of Aaron's son, Eleazar. So he wasn't totally an outsider, but it was definitely a transition that would have been noticed.
Notice the strictness under which the priests were able to operate. They were not to drink wine while they were in the temple, which is different from today when the priests need to finish whatever wine is left over. They are only to marry a virgin, or a widow of a priest. They also received no land or investments apart from what the Lord provides to them. God wanted to be their only investment. All that the priests owned was wrapped up in who God was to them. I like that minimalism.
Ezekiel is transported away from the temple to a location where he is able to witness it and all of its splendor. Keep in mind, this is a vision, the temple is still destroyed and nothing has been done to restore it. But Ezekiel is tasked with giving the people a vision and a hope that it is God's plans to restore the temple. He then takes Ezekiel back into the temple and he hears the voice of God who is residing in the holy of holies. The place where, as he says: "the place for the soles of my feet." God is so comfortable in the holy of holies that he has taken off his outdoor shoes, stripped off his socks, and is walking around barefoot inside his home. Now that is a definition of home. If you are guest somewhere you may take off your shoes, but you would never take off your socks.
Look at vs.11 and you see a conditional command to Ezekiel which is: "let them be ashamed of their iniquities...when they are ashamed of all that they have done...then..." There is a sense that God is going to come and reside in his home not just whenever, but only when the people recognize their iniquities and are willing to not worship and bow down to false idols. Those kings who encouraged them to depart from the ways of the Lord have been buried and their history is behind them. Now, and only now once you have become ashamed of your past and how you departed from the ways of the Lord, now I can come home and take my shoes and socks off and reside with you.
It was important that Ezekiel understood that those who were serving the people by having the responsibility of the sacrifices and entering the holy of holies disrobe their attire that they use to approach the Lord and put on other vestments as they interact with the people in every day settings. Interestingly enough what I wear that first service, my robe, I do not use in every day settings. I only use my robe for Sunday morning, weddings, funerals, and any other services where I am asked to be present in a way that I am invoking the name and the presence of the Lord.
We have a completely different theological approach to our understanding of the presence of God. We do not believe that God resides in a single location but rather that God is present with all of us at the same time. We do not believe that any individual has a closer relationship to God because of their earthly responsibilities. No matter who it is who wears the robe, they do not have a special "in" with God as opposed to the mechanic who busts his chops every day in the shop. That is part of our Calvinist approach to our faith. God loves us all...equally, and we all have the same access to God. I like that.
If you think about the motif of the newly constructed and visualized temple you can't help but think of the garden of Eden, the first home where God and mortals lived together and even walked together sharing some special quality time together. If you look starting at vs.18 you see the palm trees and cherubim are present just like in I Kings 6:29-30.
There isn't much more to say about the vision given to Ezekiel about the new temple except to say that it was a significant, probably the most significant detail that the exiles returning to their home land were going to be involved in, the rebuilding of the temple.
I'm wondering what needs to be rebuilt in our society after our time of exile, of pandemic, is over. What needs to be restored that has been torn down during this time: civility, dialogue, kindness, grace, trust, you fill in the blank. It is during this time of rebuilding, once the pandemic is over and the end is in sight, that we need to be able to work shoulder to shoulder with those that maybe during this time we regarded as our adversary. Adversary no more, we have a common cause, the rebuilding of our nation and the rebuilding of our sense of decency which is crucial. Okay, this is less about God and more about what we have left out of our interactions with people during this time. We can only restore what has been torn down if we turn to God for strength and hope.
The most tragic of all the losses of the people of Israel was not the lives of loved ones that could never be reclaimed, was not the land which had been promised to them since the time of Abraham, was not the wealth of material and livestock which would never be able to be replaced, but was the loss of the temple which meant that the presence of God would be limited in a way that it had never been limited before. Even while the Israelites were wandering in the desert at least they had the tabernacle where the presence of the Lord could be realized. Here, in exile, and with the temple destroyed, the presence of the Lord was sketchy at best.
This chapter describes Ezekiel measuring out what would be the new reconstructed temple after the old one was destroyed. It is fashioned after the temple that Solomon built which you can find in I Kings 6 and II Chronicles 3 both of which we have seen and described in all of its glory. This chapter can be seen as a bit of a slow chapter with details that we wonder if we really need. But remember, for the people of Israel these details breathed life into the people who desperately needed to hear good news that the presence of the Lord would be restored. I am sure that there are times in our life when we desperately need a sign that the presence of the Lord would be restored in our lives, even if He has never been gone from us. We sometimes just need to have that sign to provide us with a bit of hope.
This chapter once again contains both the promise of destruction of enemies of Israel and the promise of restoration for Israel itself. Gog and Magog are described as the classic enemies of the Lord who will be defeated unilaterally. But then you see a transition that takes place in vs. 25 where God speaks about restoring the fortunes of Israel.
Notice how all of the military arms are used to provide fire for the people of Israel who traditionally need to go and gather wood from the forests. No need to do that for the weapons will be converted to fire wood. It should sound a little bit like Isaiah 2:4 where we read: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks..."
If you were just to pick up this chapter in vs.28 you would get a summary of all that has happened from the time of the exile to the promise of the restoration. God sent them into exile among the nations and then he will gather them together again, no one will be left behind. Sounds like a theme within our own military that we have seen at one time. No one is left behind.
The repeated reminder to Israel that they are going to be facing destruction is once again emphasized here. But this time the author incorporates the image of creation to stress how things are going to take place. You almost see a rolling back of creation in reverse as we read in vs.20 about the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the animals of the field, all creeping things that creep on the ground and then finally all human beings shall quake at the presence of God.
This order is very similar to what we find in creation and how when God created these animals and the humans he looked around and said it is good, no in fact, it is very good. The destruction of Israel by a foreign power is God's desire and it is taking place in a way that is reminiscent of how God created us in the first place. Remember, we are the clay and God is the potter. What right do we have to question how God is doing things especially when we are so clearly not following God's desires in our lives and in the life of the nation as a whole.
The worship of other idols has moved God to the place where he is able to use a nation that also worship idols to destroy his people, turn them into bones, so that he can one day raise them up again as he has promised. But for now, his wrath will be complete.
This has to be one of my favorite chapters in Ezekiel. I not only use it when I speak about the Day of Pentecost, which you can find in Acts 2, but also when I speak about how God created us in Genesis 2 where he first made us and then breathed life into us. The association for Pentecost is the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit which gives life to the bones in the valley that represent the fallen and the deserted hopes of the people of God while they are in captivity. The life that God breathes into them, like we find in Genesis, is a reflection of the promise that God will bring back all the people of Israel, even while they now live in desperation, to their original land and give them hope and promise.
It is a powerful chapter that reflects God's incessant desire to be reconciled with his people and his desire to act in a way that would reflect his everlasting love for his people. The role of Ezekiel in presenting to the people of God the desires of God is pretty powerful. Who today is able to present to the people of God, to us, what God's desires and wishes are? Keep in mind that the presentation of God's desires always ran contrary to what the people and the religious and political leaders of this day are proposing. The dry bones were a sign of resignation. God never ever is gonna let us down. Here is a song that reflects this.
We have a hard transition here in this chapter from oracles against Edom and against those who were not the allies of the people of God, to a vision of what things will be when all things will be restored. And all things will be restored. We find the grace of God in this chapter front and center. It would be great to focus in on vs.26-28 where we find the promise that God will give us a new heart and a new spirit. It will be a heart of flesh as opposed to a heart of stone. We find this dramatic transition and surgery take place as alluded to us by Jeremiah in 31:33, Deuteronomy 30:1-6 and other places, but this is much more dramatic.
The transformation that takes place within the people of Israel is incited by a recognition of sin (vs.31, 33). With a recognition of sin comes the opportunity for restoration. Without that recognition of sin then you find yourself in the same place where you were before that. Full of sin and without the grace of God to restore you.
Not only will God restore the towns and the material things but we also find in vs.37 and following that God will allow the people of God to ask for abundance of offspring, to increase their population like a flock. This definitely happens. As a result of the towns and the people being restore it will draw people to recognize "Then they shall know that I am the Lord." What a fitting way to end this chapter. But next chapter is one of my favorites.