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Monday, February 13, 2017

When All Is Lost...

Doing these studies in the prophets has really driven home to me how long it took for Jerusalem to fall. But now we've reached that in-between time, when the people are exiled in Bablyon, the city and Temple are gone, and the future looks seriously uncertain and bleak. Exiled from my basement (and office), with chairs and sofa gone (where I used to read, take notes, eat lunch etc), and unsure how long it will take for me to get "home," I'm unsettled, but nothing like so unsettled as those Jewish refugees. I'm tempted, in bleaker moments, to wonder why God would care about my minor problems when so many people suffer so much. Then I remind myself, he cares about me and everyone else, and he really does have the whole world, history, present and future, safe in his hand. It just doesn't always look that way until it is history. So here's some history and prophecy, all tied together.

(40) Ezekiel – when all is lost

Jerusalem has fallen. The survivors are exiles in Babylon. Daniel works with Babylonians in the royal household. Ezekiel lives and works among the Jewish refugee community. And King Jehoiachin is a prisoner, taken captive with his household and family when Nebuchadnezzar placed his brother/uncle Zedekiah on the throne. (Uncle Zedekiah didn’t fare quite so well—he was blinded before being taken prisoner.) What did everyone think would happen next?

Read 2 Kings 25:27-30, Jeremiah 52:31-34. Nebuchadnezzar will eventually be followed by Evil-Merodach (Man of Marduk). The all-powerful Babylonian empire will begin to stumble. But this won’t be visible to the Jewish exiles.

Ezekiel has prophesied the death and destruction of Jerusalem and its neighbors. Now God’s words have come to pass. What do you think Ezekiel might talk about afterward (or what might God talk to Ezekiel about)? (Try to answer before looking at the passages.)

Near Cambridge, England, we have the Gogmagog hills—strange name?
1.       Read Ezekiel 38:1-7. Gog might be the Asian King Gyges (correct dates, wrong name), a city somewhere, the Scythians (because they came from the North—wrong name, right direction), or… or it could be an imaginary name of an imaginary foe—the bad guys. What do you think? And what names might be used today for an imaginary powerful foe?

2.       This prophecy has been used to remind God’s people in many times and places that God will prevail. How do we remind ourselves that God will prevail?

3.       Read Ezekiel 38:10-12. The people want Ezekiel to remind them that they will be re-established peacefully in God’s Promised Land. Instead, it sounds like they’re being told they’ll be attacked again (by Gog) after being re-established. How might that make them feel?

4.       Why should we never trust in human governments, armies and powers?

5.       Read Ezekiel 38:14-16. Why does God keep allowing bad things to happen?

6.       Read Ezekiel 38:18-23. Which images remind you of Revelation?

7.       Read Ezekiel 39:3-6, 9-10. Who will win?

8.       Read Ezekiel 39:11-15. Do you suppose 7 is symbolic? What else might be symbolic?

9.       Read Ezekiel 39:17-18. Symbolic perhaps? What might it mean? Do you remember the feast in Revelation? (Read Revelation 19:18. Why might the first readers of Revelation have recognized the reference?)

10.   Read Ezekiel 39:27-29. How can we be sure to remember this promise? How does it relate to end times?

Read Ezekiel 40:1. The changeover from Nebuchadnezzar to Evil-Merodach is still in the future. Babylon is still powerful, but Ezekiel sees it as beginning to fall. He’s given a vision of the future where restoration of the land is followed by failure and restoration again. Now he gives an image of the restored temple. Before reading, do you imagine this will be a blueprint for rebuilding a temple, or a vision of end-times perfection?

1.       Read Ezekiel 40:2-4. Who do you think the “man” is? What purpose do the cord and rod serve?

2.       Read Ezekiel 40:5-7. A (long) cubit is a little less than two feet. Reading without trying to do the math, what are the dominant images and symbols here? What might be the significance of all this measuring? And of “long”?

3.       Read Ezekiel 40:16. What might be the significance of beauty/decoration?

4.       Read Ezekiel 40:17-20. What happens in the outer court of the temple?

5.       Read Ezekiel 40:28-31. What happens in the inner court? (Herod’s temple had the gentile courtyard, the women’s courtyard and the priest’s courtyard, but the outer and inner—women’s and priests’—courts are the important ones.)

6.       Read Ezekiel 40:38-39. Why might Ezekiel be particularly interested in what is offered where?

7.       Read Ezekiel 41:1-4. Where is our most holy place?

8.       Remembering Ezekiel’s earlier vision of the Temple (Ezekiel 8), what has changed (or will change)?

The temple is not just a building, and Ezekiel doesn’t just get a guided tour.
1.       Read Ezekiel 43:1-5. Remember Ezekiel 10:18-19. What is the significance of the East gate?

2.       Read Ezekiel 43:10-11. How do (or should) measurements make us ashamed?

3.       Read Ezekiel 43:18, 25-28. Why would Ezekiel be particularly interested in sacrifices? And what is the significance of 7 (again)?

4.       Read Ezekiel 44:1-3 The East gate of Jerusalem (city, not Temple) was sealed shut by Suleiman in AD1540 and is in Arab territory today, a fact that obviously influences modern interpretation of these verses. How do you think the first listeners might have interpreted them? Who might they have believed was the prince? What about when they started building the new temple?

5.       Can you come up with your own personal interpretation of a gate—maybe a gate in your spiritual life—being sealed shut so only the prince can enter?

6.       Read Ezekiel 44:6-9. How does knowing that prisoners of war were used as temple servants affect your interpretation of this?

7.       Read Ezekiel 45:1. What does dividing the land remind you of? Why might Exodus, establishment and exile be a repeating theme in the Bible?

8.       Read Exodus 45:7-10. Does this alter who you think the prince might be?

9.       Read Exodus 46:1-2. Are the offices of king and priest combined or separate? Who combines them?

10.   Read Exodus 47:1-2. Does this sound symbolic? Does it remind you of Genesis and Revelation (Read Revelation 22:1-2)?

11.   Read Exodus 47:13-14, 48:1-2…. Does this mean the original allotments in Joshua and Judges were wrong, or is it just a reminder that God allots space perfectly? (Note Judah moves into the Northern part. There’s some suggestion that closeness to the Temple is determined by purity of blood!)

12.   Read Exodus 48:35. Are we there yet? Can we measure the walls or the time remaining?

13.   Today we don’t worship in temples but we do still value gold. What sort of visions might God give to our prophets?

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