Monday, December 5, 2016

What Happens at the End of the Road?

It seems like Jerusalem has been falling for weeks in these Bible studies--for years in reality as we read "the ninth year" "the tenth" "the eleventh." But this week's study sees a kingdom destroyed, while a different type of kingdom takes root in the heart. I hope you're enjoying the journey as much as I am.

(37) Jerusalem Falls at last

Ezekiel spends a lot of time (or a lot of writing) describing the fate of Jerusalem, but he’s not even in Jerusalem. Why is it such a big, time-and-page-consuming deal?

Can you list, from memory, the things that have been done wrong in Jerusalem? Can you list modern-day equivalents for each? Read Ezekiel 22:2-16

1.       Verse 3. How do we shed blood?

2.       Verse 4. How are we defiled with idols?

3.       Verse 5. Are we a reproach to the nations / an infamous place?

4.       Verse 7. Do we oppress strangers?

5.       Verse 7. Do we care for widows and orphans, and for anyone else in need?

6.       Verse 8. How do we mistreat sacred things?

7.       Verse 9. How does slander cause bloodshed? What modern actions cause bloodshed?

8.       Verse 9-10. What is lewdness? (Other translations use other words, but what is being condemned?)

9.       Verse 10-11. Is it just sexual immorality with neighbors and relatives that’s being condemned?

10.   Verse 12. Who profits from whom in the modern world? And who profits from war and bloodshed?

Read Ezekiel 22:17-22. What kind of melting pots come to mind? What is the message?
Next Ezekiel compares Judah and Samaria to two sisters, both of whom betray their spouse.

1.       Read Ezekiel 23:4-5. What happened when Israel made agreements with Assyria? Does this mean our nation shouldn’t make agreements? That faith shouldn’t mix with politics? That… what do you think?

2.       Read Ezekiel 23:11-12,14,16,19. Do you remember the history these verses refer to? Do you think the first listeners remembered?

3.       Is this really about lewdness and harlotry? Why is sexual sin such a good image of spiritual sin?

4.       Read Ezekiel 23:38-44. What sort of images does this bring to mind – old movies perhaps? What sort of images would it have brought to the minds of the first listeners? Is it literal or symbolic?

When Zedekiah made an alliance with Egypt, the Ammonites (East of the Jordan) jumped at the chance to join what they hoped would be the winning side. Ezekiel imagines the Babylonian armies halting and pondering who to plunder first. But the plunder of Jerusalem is only delayed to the ninth year of Jehoiachin’s exile – ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign.

1.       Read Ezekiel 21:18-20,28-29. News of Zedekiah’s alliance and the Ammonite agreement would have brought false hope to the exiles. How willing do you think they will be to hear that hope denied? How willing are we to hear messages contrary to our hopes?

2.       Read Ezekiel 24:1-2.  Why do you suppose Ezekiel listed the date so carefully?

3.       Read Ezekiel 24:3-5. Why cooking pots again? What might be just as familiar to a modern family as a cooking pot filled with choice cuts of meat was to them?

4.       Read Ezekiel 24:6. What is usually done to the scum (some translations say “deposit”)?

5.       Read Ezekiel 24:10-11. What happens if the pot is put back on the fire?

6.       As the women cook dinner, after hearing and seeing this, what thoughts might be in their minds? How can we become more mindful of God during our everyday actions, especially as we prepare for Christmas?

Ezekiel’s whole life becomes a parable, even the death of his wife, which must feel to him like the death of Jerusalem feels to God. Read Ezekiel 24:15-24. What do you lose if you cannot mourn properly?

Read Ezekiel 24:25-27. How would it have helped Ezekiel to know he would eventually be allowed to mourn?

Read Ezekiel 3:22-27. Ezekiel, who speaks God’s words, has been silenced and must prophesy without words. Many commentators believe these “silent” chapters represent what he taught while silently mourning his wife. (Traditional mourning involved lots of loud words.)

1.       Read Ezekiel 4:1-2. Ezekiel uses street theater to pantomime the siege of Jerusalem. How hard would it be not to respond to the comments of the crowds? Why is silence so difficult – silence of others, or of ourselves?

2.       Read Ezekiel 4:5-6. If Israel’s first sin is Jeroboam’s rejection of Davidic rule (930BC), what happens 390 years later (540BC)? And if Judah’s first sin is the rejection of Christ, what happens 40 years later? Does it matter that historians change the dates as new evidence comes to light – what if Jeroboam was once believed to take the northern throne in 970BC? What if the first sin is Solomon’s? And why/when will Judah suffer for 40 years?

3.       Read Ezekiel 4:9-13. Ezekiel must be speaking about Judah’s exiles. In what sense are they “eating defiled food”? In what sense do we eat defiled food?

4.       Read Ezekiel 4:15. Remember Abraham arguing with God? Can we argue with God?

5.       Read Ezekiel 5:1-4. What is Ezekiel being told to do at the end of his siege pantomime? Which hairs survive? How are we supposed to protect ourselves?

6.       Read Ezekiel 6:1-3. Ezekiel is allowed to speak again but the message is the same. Do you think he has more or fewer listeners after the year-long pantomime?

7.       Read Ezekiel 6:8-10. Are his listeners part of that remnant? Are we part of God’s remnant?

8.       Read Ezekiel 6:11. Can you imagine Ezekiel pounding his fists and stamping his feet? Is it okay to be emotional?

9.       Read Ezekiel 7. What is going to happen in Jerusalem?

Three years pass (from Ezekiel 24:1-2). The Jews hoped Egypt would save them, but it wouldn’t. Ezekiel prophecies against Egypt, much as Jeremiah did, and the end is drawing closer. Read Ezekiel 29:1-2, 30:20-21

1.       Read Ezekiel 31:1-2 How would we answer this question for our nation?

2.       Read Ezekiel 31:9 God describes Assyria with the words “I made it…” How might that change our view of our country’s history?

3.       Read Ezekiel 31:10-11,13-14. What is the punishment for exalting ourselves? This is Egypt’s punishment, and then it falls on Jerusalem too. Read 2 Kings 25:5-7, Jeremiah 39:2-7, 52:7-11. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

How bad can it get and still be good?

We're continuing in Ezekiel this week, living among the exiles as they wait for the other shoe to fall. The story kind of begs the question, how bad can it get and still be in God's hands. Ezekiel had a faith we might all need to share, and message we might all need to heed.

(36) Prophet to the Exiles - Ezekiel

We’ll look at Ezekiel 12 later, as it describes a visual parable of a captive people’s escape. For now, we continue looking at why the people are captive in the first place. Ezekiel has 4 years (Read Ezekiel 20:1, 591 BC) in which to explain to the people why they can’t go home and won’t have a home to go back to.

Jerusalem is under attack. How do we defend ourselves when we feel attacked?

1.       Read Ezekiel 13:1-7 How might someone recognize if prophecy comes from their own heart rather than from God? By the time it’s fulfilled might be too late.

2.       What do the false prophets tell people to do or not do? Are these real or metaphorical walls? How do we choose between trusting God and taking action to help ourselves?

3.       Read Ezekiel 13:10-12. What might be modern parables for this?

4.       Read Ezekiel 13:17-19. So women are prophets too, and women are false prophets too. What are they doing, and why? (And how does this fit with women wearing veils on their heads out of modesty?)

5.       Are there any modern parallels to magic charms?

6.       Read Ezekiel 13:20-21. Does this mean magic works?

The exiled leaders come to Ezekiel for advice. Who would we turn to?

1.       Read Ezekiel 14:1-3. What idols do we set up in our hearts?

2.       Read Ezekiel 14:7-8. How do our idols separate us from God?

3.       Read Ezekiel 14:9-11. Why should the prophet be punished?

4.       Read Ezekiel 14:12-14. What do Noah, Daniel and Job have in common?

5.       Read Ezekiel 14:13,15,17,19,21. Why four beasts? Is an increase in trials really a prequel to the end-times?

6.       Read Ezekiel 14:22. Can you think of other situations in the Bible where a remnant brought hope? Read 1 Kings 19:18,2 Kings 17:18, Jeremiah 39:10, Nehemiah 1:2, Romans 9:27,Romans 11:5 Is it always a good thing to be part of the remnant?

7.       Read Ezekiel 15:2-5. What was Israel “made” for? What were we made for? (Read verses 6-8)

Ezekiel tells a parable of Israel’s relationship with God. How would we describe our church’s/our nation’s relationship, from birth to the present day?

1.       Read Ezekiel 16:2-5. Babies were washed, named, rubbed with salt, and loved in Palestinian tradition. Why would a baby be abandoned like this? What does it tell us about what we might deserve from God?

2.       Read Ezekiel 16:6-7. God names the baby, “Live.” What kind of love does he show it? How does he show us this kind of love?

3.       Read Ezekiel 16:8,13. God changes the name to “Mine.” What kind of love does he show now? How does he show us this kind of love?

4.       Read Ezekiel 16:15-19. How do these images relate to images of worship? How do we play the harlot with what God has given us?

5.       Read Ezekiel 16:20-21. Why did they give their children to the flames? Remembering those metaphorical walls, has this got anything to do with abortion and child sacrifice, or is something else going on?

6.       Read Ezekiel 16:24. How did Israel “build itself a shrine”? And how do we?

7.       Read Ezekiel 16:26-29. Do you remember what parts of Jewish history are being referred to here? Do you think they remembered?

8.       Read Ezekiel 16:44-47. Remembering back to the beginning of the chapter (and the parable), who might be Israel’s “mother”? If there is a battle between our father’s and mother’s spiritual genes in our lives, who is our “mother”?

9.       Read Ezekiel 16:60-61. So there is hope. But what does this hope mean for Israel’s neighbors? For us?

Ezekiel tells the parable of the Eagle and the Vine in chapter 17. Read Ezekiel 17:1-10,22-24. Remembering that eagles represent Babylon and Israel is God’s vine, how does this fit what is happening back in Jerusalem? What does it promise for the future?

Ezekiel then goes on to set rules for God’s people, starting from another popular proverb. Read Jeremiah 31:29, Ezekiel 18:-3-4. What do you think the proverb was being used to imply?

1.       Can you paraphrase Ezekiel 18:4-18 in modern terms?

2.       Read Ezekiel 18:21-23. How does remind us of New Testament promises?

3.       Read Ezekiel 18:24. What does this mean? Can we really say once saved, always saved?

4.       Read Ezekiel 18:25. Even in Old Testament times, people still said “Not fair!” Do we want God to be fair?

5.       Read Ezekiel 18:32. How might we do this today?

Four years before the fall of Jerusalem, the elders come to Ezekiel to hear God’s word. Read Ezekiel 20:2-4. How does Ezekiel feel about these people? How does God feel about them?

1.       God recites a history of his relationship with his people. In the New Testament, various sermons are based on the history of God’s relationship with his people. How important is it to know our spiritual history?

2.       Read Ezekiel 20:33. Why is God furious? What makes us furious?

3.       Read Ezekiel 20:34-36. What does God do in his fury? What do we do in ours?

4.       Read Ezekiel 20:45-49. Who else spoke in parables?

5.       Read Ezekiel 21:3-5. God says his sword will not return – does this remind you of royal edicts at the time? What image does it convey of God?

6.       Read Ezekiel 21:13. Why can’t Jerusalem be spared? Should we expect to be spared?

7.       Read Ezekiel 21:14-17. What do you think Ezekiel is doing while he speaks these words? Why might God use actions, parables, etc to convey his meaning?

Monday, November 14, 2016

What do you do when the enemy's at the gates?

We're still reading Jeremiah and Ezekiel, still waiting for the city to fall, and still seeing lots of parallels with the present day as we continue our studies of prophets. With the enemy at the gates, Jeremiah's fortunes go up and down (but mostly down), and Ezekiel, faraway among the exiles, is given visions of disaster in the guise of hope.

(35) Last Days of Jerusalem

Things aren’t going well for Jerusalem or for Jeremiah, and the glory will soon depart from the Temple. As we head toward that event, let’s start with a familiar story of Jeremiah imprisoned again.
1.       Read Jeremiah 38:1-4 Why do they feel so threatened by Jeremiah’s words? What makes us feel threatened?

2.       Read Jeremiah 38:5-6. When we think of Jeremiah’s imprisonments, which one do we remember first?

3.       Without reading on, do you expect this to be a short or a long imprisonment?

We know Jeremiah has been prophesying the end of the city, but he’s also been prophesying good things. What do we hear more easily, words of doom or words of hope?

1.       Read Jeremiah 33:1-3. Putting all the events together gets complicated, but this looks like it happened just before Zedekiah released Jeremiah, just before the other Jews locked him down in the cistern. How do we feel when success and failure turn into a roller-coaster ride?

2.       Read Jeremiah 33:4-5. How are the Jews defending themselves? Does reading this seem more vivid today as we see news coverage of the Middle East?

3.       Read Jeremiah 33:8-9. How hard is it to believe God’s promises when the world falls apart? Does reading this help us today?

4.       Read Jeremiah 33:10-11. Is our world desolate?

5.       Read Jeremiah 33:14-16, 23:5-6. Jeremiah repeats the same hopeful message. Why do the influential only remember the bad parts of his message? Does having more to lose make it harder for us to trust God?

Jeremiah reminds people that God can be trusted in all things, but the leaders ignore even this good news in favor of complaining about the bad. What good news might we be failing to hear?

1.       Read Jeremiah 33:20-21.
a.       Jeremiah reminds the people they can trust God. Does this help us trust God?

b.      He is surrounded by a world of other “creator” gods. How is this the same or different from our being surrounded by scientific explanations for aspects of creation?

2.       Read Jeremiah 33:24-25. How might this apply to the current situation of Jerusalem and Israel?

Jeremiah is rescued (fairly quickly) from the well and has a productive conversation with King Zedekiah.
1.       Read Jeremiah 38:7-9.The eunuch can clearly tell that this is a different kind of imprisonment. Why might the king not be happy about it? What makes evil deeds escalate?

2.       Read Jeremiah 38:10-13. Why so many men? Why so many clothes? And where does Jeremiah end up? How do we feel when we end up

3.       Read Jeremiah 38:14-15. How does Jeremiah feel toward the king?

4.       Read Jeremiah 38:16-17. Zedekiah seems to believe God speaks through Jeremiah. Will he do what Jeremiah asks? Why might we want to win, more than we want to obey?

5.       Read Jeremiah 38:19. Why does Zedekiah not want to obey God?

6.       Read Jeremiah 38:24-28. Is it okay to only tell part of the truth? What makes us decide if it’s okay?

The Temple is about to be destroyed – an event that could destroy any lingering faith among the exiles. But God sends Ezekiel another vision (about a year after his first) where he sees what’s truly going on.
1.       Read Ezekiel 8:1 How do you envision the scene? Is this like a synagogue meeting?

2.       Read Ezekiel 8:2-4. What do you think the elders saw? And why would, or wouldn’t you expect them to believe Ezekiel when he tells them (in future) about the vision. What would make you more or less likely to believe someone who said they’d received a vision?

3.       What might be the image of jealousy (sometimes translated the idol that provokes to jealousy)? What makes God jealous, and what have we learned about worship in Jerusalem at the time?

4.       Read Ezekiel 8:7-12. So… what we do in secret is as easily seen by God as if we did it in His Temple? How does that make us feel?

5.       Read Ezekiel 8:13-14. Tammuz married Ishtar (Damuzi and Inanna), sister of the queen of the dead. Ishtar  was tricked by her sister into taking her place. Then she forced her husband to take her place – does this remind you of any more familiar myths? Weeping for Tammuz was probably part of a fertility ritual. Read Ezekiel 8:16. We might read legends, but we don’t normally worship their gods. Given that our bodies are Temples, what do we do wrong?

6.       Read Ezekiel 9:1-2. Why six men? (Read Isaiah 6:2, Revelation 4:8)

7.       Read Ezekiel 9:3-6. What is the significance of a mark? Where else do marks that protect us appear in the Bible? (Read Exodus 28:36-38, Revelation 14:1,9)

8.       In the vision, God’s agents are killing God’s people. In the real world, the Babylonians will kill Jews. But what does God wish to see destroyed? How does Jesus’ sacrifice change things?

9.       Read Ezekiel 10:3-5. When has God’s presence appeared as a cloud before? (Read Exodus 33:9, 1 Kings 8:10)

10.   Read Ezekiel 10:6-7. What significance has fire in the Temple? What significance does it have in the world?

11.   Read Ezekiel 10:8-17. Does this remind you of Ezekiel’s earlier vision? Why isn’t it precisely the same? If you see something unbelievably amazing, will you always describe it with the same words?

12.   Read Ezekiel 11:1,22-23. Which mountain is to the East of Jerusalem? Who entered Jerusalem by this same gate where Ezekiel sees God’s departure? (Read Matthew 21:1)

13.   Read Ezekiel 11:3,11. Do they expect the city to protect them or be the place of their destruction, bearing in mind that the vision has just shown God’s fire?

14.   Read Ezekiel 11:7-9. Who will be safe in the city?

15.   Read Ezekiel 11:17-21. Do we read the threat or the promise?

Ezekiel will go on to prophesy against foolish prophets, idolaters, the unfaithful, those who refuse to listen and learn, etc. Who would he prophesy against today?