How are you going with Ezekiel? For me, wow, it is a rending polemic of judgement against Israel. The book of Ezekiel is unrelenting in its language and uncompromising in its message. It can make for hard reading, hard understanding and difficult application. It is also LONG – few other Old Testament books exceed it in length! At times like this I think it is important to remind myself that Ezekiel, like all parts of God’s word, is useful for teaching, rebuke, correction and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). Therefore, it is definitely worth our while to chomp and wrestle our way through this book together – so let’s strap ourselves in for the long haul and work hard to encourage each other with what we are learning.
Historically, Ezekiel lived in a pivotal time in Israel’s history. Ezekiel is amongst the exiles deported by the Babylonian conquest of Judah (Ez 1:1). I imagine that the exiles were wondering how “God’s chosen people” had ended up here – away from the promised land and cut off from their beloved city of Jerusalem. Chapter 7 leaves us in no doubt
An end has come; the end has come; it has awakened against you (v5)… your doom has come against you (v6)… I will pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations (v8)
The judgement of God, in response to Israel’s continued disobedience, has finally been brought to bear… and Israel is without excuse. The narrative arc of the Old Testament has built to this point – there have been continual warnings against Israel turning away and numerous prophets have been pointing, calling and imploring the people to return to their God, even preceding their entrance to the promised land (Deut 8:19-20) – yet the people remain stiff-necked, hard of heart and continue to disobey. Eventually, time is up. Judgement. Exile. Destruction.
Ezekiel notes the completeness of the judgement and scattering of God’s people.
None goes to battle, for my wrath is upon their multitude (v14)… He who is in the field dies by the sword, and him who is in the city famine and pestilence devour (v15)
It is horrific in its completeness
I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their houses (v23)… disaster comes upon disaster (v26)… the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror (v27)
Even the priests, the very mediators between the people and God, are not spared
The law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders (v26)
And yet, the chapter closes with the words… ‘and they shall know that I am the Lord’.
Is it possible that in judgement we can see the Lord’s hand at work? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes! We know that through the circumstances of their judgement, God continues to bring his purposes about as part of his unfolding plan for salvation. While Israel’s experience is a stark reminder to us that our world will one day also be subject to the judgement of God, we know that through Christ’s redemptive work on the cross Jesus has turned away or propitiated the wrath that we deserve.
In our reading today in Timothy, Paul reminds us (amongst other things) of the inherent danger in being rich and pursuing money. He describes our longing for material possessions as equivalent to ‘piercing ourselves with many griefs’ (v10). I have to confess that I don’t typically see the danger that my comfortable, middle class existence poses to my faith – but here Paul urges Timothy to ‘command those who are rich [read YOU and ME] in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth’ – he describes our desire to be rich as a TRAP that will plunge us into ruin and destruction – perhaps a ruin similar to Israel as they turned away from God to pursue idols? I pray that we would all heed the call to be wary of this temptation and to run from it!
Paul commands us to be rich in good deeds and generosity. He commands us to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness and in doing so we might ‘take hold of the life that is truly life’ (v19) … sounds like a command worth following to me.