Resolute obedience (Ezekiel 24:15-27)
What’s this? Ezekiel’s wife dies – and he can’t show his grief? Surely God is being cruel! Ezekiel can’t mourn naturally. No tears, no sorrowful look, no covering of his face, no food provided by neighbours or friends to feed him during his grief. This event cost the prophet dearly. Yet in his afflicted state he still did the work God set before him.
The people are alarmed. Because of Ezekiel’s past oracles they sense that this strange behaviour too has God’s hand behind it (24:19). And they are right. But until the oracle is fulfilled Ezekiel will be silent before them, not speaking against the Israelites. He is waiting for a message to these exiles that Jerusalem had been destroyed (v 25), so vindicating God’s message through Ezekiel, and allowing Ezekiel to speak again. He was silent for three years!
Imagine God allowing his own sanctuary to be desecrating and his people in Jerusalem to be besieged and slaughtered: how could his relationship with his people become so affected? But the Israelites have made the magnificent building an idol; they are worshipping the created rather than the Creator (a reminder of Romans 1:23). John similarly commands the Ephesian church to “stop loving the evil world” with its “lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see and pride in our possessions” (1 John 3:15-17 NLT). Does that shake us to the core? We too need a reality check to ensure we escape from these dangers, lest God have to be harsh in disciplining us (see yesterday’s reading in Hebrews).
The Israelites will be as stunned as was Ezekiel in the loss of his wife. Their loss is so great they will be paralysed, unable to function normally. So too Ezekiel … but in his grief he resolutely obeyed God.
“Let us be thankful” (Hebrews 12:18-29)
The writer is urging the Hebrews to remain steadfast in their new relationship with God through Jesus. He contrasts the old and new covenants, the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai and the new covenant of which Jesus is the mediator. Verses 13 to 21 refer back to the Mount Sinai experience. These highlight aspects of God: he is majestic; he is unapproachable; and he engenders fear in those who would dare approach him. Indeed, Israelites could approach him only through their priests and High Priests and with the blood of sacrificed animals.
Verses 22 to 24 highlight other facets of this same God. Now through Jesus a Christian has a new relationship with God. A joyful spiritual assembly of angels and God’s elected people is portrayed. But God is still the Judge and we must face his scrutiny.
Jesus made this new covenant possible. He took away that fear of Mount Sinai by becoming the perfect High Priest who gave his own blood: that is, he had to die to make this possible. And with his death he opened the way for all of us to be reconciled with God.
Verses 25 to 29 show that we have a greater privilege and obligation under the new covenant. Moses was God’s spokesman – but Jesus was God in the flesh. If humans warrant condemnation for rejecting the spokesman’s message, how much more will they warrant condemnation for rejecting God himself!
These Hebrew Christians were reminded that a time is coming when this physical earth shall pass away, leaving only the thing that can never be shaken – the relationship of a Christian to God. To remain steadfast they needed to follow the commands of verse 29, “let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire”. Those commands apply equally to Christians today: are we thankful? Is our worship acceptable?