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Monday, February 6, 2017

Does 2017 feel a bit like a disaster?

2017 feels like a crazy year to me. We've been trapped by snow, inundated by rain, demoralized by water flooding our home, isolated by lack of phone, TV and internet (maybe that was a good thing), concerned for the health of friends in the US and UK, overwhelmed by politics (yes, lack of internet probably was a good thing), and generally... well... just not entirely happy about the state of 2017. But the Israelites must have felt worse as Jerusalem fell, so it's good to finally get back to our Bible studies and see a world not so very different from our own. Everything's out of control except... the truth is, God is, was and always will be in control.

(39) Ezekiel’s Visions and Obadiah’s Anger

It looks like there were three (or four) separate sets of exiles sent to Babylon, though they probably (for the most part) ended up living in the same area, close to the river mentioned in Ezekiel 1.

1.       Which famous prophet was probably part of the first exile?

2.       Which one would have been part of the second?

3.       What happens to cause the third/fourth exile?

4.       What happened to Ezekiel between his exile and the final exile? Read Ezekiel 33:21. Do you remember the significance of someone coming from Jerusalem? (Read Ezekiel 24:25-27.)

Ezekiel’s visions start when he’s around 30 years old, as he prays near the Chebar River. His wife dies and, instead of publically mourning her, he is called to present a series of silent parables, predicting the fall of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, in private, he preaches to small groups who came to him for advice. Does this remind you of someone else, speaking in parables and explaining to a select small group what he meant?

1.       Read Ezekiel 12:3-6. What part of the fall of Jerusalem does this model?

2.       Read Ezekiel 12:17-19,27-28. Why would they have hoped this was far in the future? Would it make you feel better to think a disaster would happen later rather than sooner?

3.       In Ezekiel 33:21-22 Ezekiel is given a voice to preach publicly again. Read Ezekiel 33:31-33. Do the people listen? Are we listening?

With Jerusalem overthrown, Jerusalem’s neighbors might be expected to rejoice.

1.       Whose fall, or what country’s fall, might cause us to rejoice?

2.       Has the fall of any regime made us rejoice in our lifetimes?

3.       What effect does being pleased at another’s misfortune have on us? Is it good or bad for us?

4.       God is not planning to spare Jerusalem’s neighbors, any more than he is going to spare Egypt. Do we have any reason to imagine he will spare us pain?

Ezekiel preaches against each of Judah’s neighbors in turn. As you read, try to imagine why these words might be directed against us, or against nations we care about, rather than just against our enemies.

1.       Read Ezekiel 25:1-4, 8-9, 12-13, 15-16, 26:1-7. What do we remember Tyre for? (Read 2 Samuel 5:11, Isaiah 23:3, Matthew 11:22) Why might Tyre be getting a longer message than the other places?

2.       Read Ezekiel 27:10-24. What image of Tyre and Sidon do you get? Why does it matter—why is it so completely described in Ezekiel’s lament (and in the Bible)?

3.       Read Ezekiel 28:1-3, 9-10. There are actually two Daniels—the well-known prophet and the Daniel of contemporary legend—holy, royal, wise and bitter; both might be intended in the passage. Who might people say they are wiser than today? What might people say in our modern world, rather than “I am a god”?

4.       Read Ezekiel 28:25-26. Peace will come, eventually. What peace do we look forward to? What peace might people in other parts of the world be looking for today? Where does peace come from?

5.       Ezekiel prophecies doom on Egypt, just as Jeremiah did (Ezekiel 29:1-2 and on). Read Ezekiel 31:17-19. What would be wrong with dying with the uncircumcised? Read out of context, how might one interpret verse 19?

6.       Read Ezekiel 32:22,24,26,29,31.  Is our world any less violent?

Ezekiel and Jeremiah aren’t the only prophets speaking out at the end of Jerusalem. But before we look at another one, what do you think Daniel is doing all this time? Read Daniel 4:37-5:1. He doesn’t live among the exiles. He doesn’t go to Ezekiel for advice. He doesn’t appear to condemn God’s enemies. But he is following God’s plan. Should we expect God’s plan for ourselves to be applicable to our neighbors?

Obadiah preaches specifically against the Edomites. There’s no specific date to the book, but it mentions the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of its people, and the prophet appears to quote from Jeremiah, making scholars think it was written around the time of Jerusalem’s fall. The Talmud suggests Obadiah was an Edomite convert and friend of Job.

1.       Who are the Edomites descended from? What have they done to oppose God’s people in the past? (Read Numbers 20:17-20)

2.       Read Obadiah 1:1,10-14. How tempting is it to join the winning side, and mock the losers?

3.       Read Obadiah 1:17-20. What is going to happen?

The Jews in exile could either remain Jewish or become assimilated into the surrounding cultures. Their lives might model how we should be “in the world but not of the world,” and their prophets—Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi—together with Ezra and Nehemiah will teach us a lot. But first, back to Ezekiel…

1.       Read Ezekiel 33:1-6 Are we watchmen? Would we want to be watchmen?

2.       Read Ezekiel 33:12 What does this mean? Does verse 14 make it clearer?

3.       Read Ezekiel 33:16-17 Does this remind you of the New Testament? Does God change?

4.       Read Ezekiel 33:20 Is God fair?

5.       Read Ezekiel 34:2,6 Who are the flock and who is the shepherd? Has this changed?

6.       Read Ezekiel 34:11,13,16 Was salvation just for the Jews?

7.       Read Ezekiel 34:17 What does this remind you of? What would Jews of Jesus’ time have remembered when Jesus spoke about the good shepherd?

8.       Read Ezekiel 35:2,5,10,14-15. Where or what was Mount Seir? (Read Genesis 36:8, Numbers 24:18, Joshua 24:4)

9.       Read Ezekiel 36:1,5,8-11. Why will God rescue his people?

10.   Read Ezekiel 36:17,22-23. Why does a good God allow bad things to happen?

11.   Read Ezekiel 36:25-27. Do God’s promises change?

12.   Read Ezekiel 37:1-3. God speaks through Ezekiel in parables. Is it true that parables make the message memorable? Do you remember where this story is going?

13.   Read Ezekiel 37:16-17,21-22,24-26. What would they have believed this prophecy meant? What do you think it means? Has it been fulfilled?

We’ll look at Ezekiel’s later prophecies—end times and Christ times—next time…

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