A Watchman and a Shepherd – Ezekiel 33-34. RBT Notes, 23rd January. Notes by Graham Thomson

‘With great power comes great responsibility.’  God will hold those He has given this responsibility to accountable for it.  Whether for the warnings they must give, or the leadership they must exercise, or their sin and rebellion, we will all answer for their actions before a holy God.

God starts with Ezekiel (33.1-9).  He has been given a word to speak to his people.  It’s a word of warning, designed to turn them away from their sin, and back to the Lord (5).  If people hear his warning, and ignore it, that’s their look-out (v.4).  But woe-betide Ezekiel if he fails to bring this hard word to the people (vv.7-8).  God calls for obedience, even when it’s hard and unpleasant.

The Lord turns next to the people themselves (33.10-33).  In love the Lord is calling them to turn back to Him.  He hates the sin that is driving them to destruction (vv.10-11).  But they need to see that they need Him, because it’s all about His grace.  The one who thinks he’s good enough can never be righteous enough, his sin will always bring him condemnation (v.13).  And the one who knows he is a sinner can never be bad enough, as grace always follows repentance and faith (14-16).

The people need to see that the Lord is just (vv.17-20).  It is because they’ve turned away from Him and embraced the evil practices of the world around them that they’re in this state (vv.23-26).  Because of that, judgement will fall (vv.27-29).  Indeed, it already has (vv.21-22).  But the people don’t want to listen.  They like to hear Ezekiel, but their hearts are not changed.  He makes a nice noise, but that’s about it (30-32).  They will realise.  They will see Ezekiel (v.33), and the Lord (v.29), for who they really are.

And, finally, the Lord turns to those shepherds who’ve led His people so far astray, feathering their own nests while His people starve (34.3-6).  They’ve earned themselves the Lord’s enmity and judgement.  They will receive the results of their self-centred leadership.  And it will not be pleasant (vv.7-10).

But the sheep will be rescued from the places they’ve been scattered (v.11).  Weak and broken as they are, the Lord Himself will rescue them (v.16), and bring them back into relationship with Him; into peaceful, loving covenant life with their God (25-31).  And they will receive a new Shepherd, a better Shepherd (vv.23-24).  Like His ancestor David, but so much more.  The Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for the sheep, that they might be His people, and He might be their God (v.31).

 

TOPSHOTS A shepherd boy is silhouetted on June 26, 2013, in Qunu a rural village where former South African President Nelson Mandela grew up. Mandela's close family members gathered to hear a sombre prayer wishing the anti-apartheid icon a "peaceful, perfect, end" as he lay in hospital in critical condition with his life seemingly slipping away. AFP PHOTO / CARL DE SOUZA CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

 

False Hopes – Ezekiel 31-32. RBT Notes, 22nd January

To envy is human. Left to our wicked selves, all of us resent the successes of others, since, amongst other things, they show up our lack of success. Egypt didn’t want to be reminded of the power of Assyria. She is compared to being a cedar in Lebanon, then a proverb for strength and beauty. Assyria is powerful, and beautiful, she is all that Egypt hoped to be. All the nations lived in her shade (31.6). God made her beautiful (v.9).

And pride comes before destruction. She fell in her pride before Nebuchadnezzar, “the ruler of the nations” (v.11). She was destroyed, and the world knew of her destruction (vv.12-17). Nothing lasts, pride least of all. We need to learn the lesson of Assyria. The lesson is given for Egypt, and it is given for us. For all of Egypt’s wealth and success, “you too will be brought down” (v.18).

As the King of Tyre was lamented for, Ezekiel now sings for Pharaoh (ch.32). Big beast though he is, he will soon go down. And “on the day of your downfall each of them will tremble every moment for his life” (v.10). The answer to his and his nation’s pride? Babylon (vv.11-15).

A fortnight later the word comes to Ezekiel, and his mood darkens further. Everywhere he sees shattered Empires, ruined cities, dead bodies. No one, not Assyria, Tyre or Sidon, Elam or Meshech, has survived God’s judgment. Nor will Egypt (vv.17-32). Maybe the old psalmist was right: “do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save” (Ps.146.3).

rubjerg_lighthouse_denmark_shifting_sands1Our world is so much like Ezekiel’s world. Our world is in a time of upheaval, with chronic global instability as we face massive questions about our natural resources and the state of the environment. We are reminded by events all over the globe that our world is a very dangerous and divided place. Countries, political powers and worldviews are melting, just as they did in Ezekiel’s day. More than ever we need Ezekiel’s God. More than ever, in this mess, we need the good news: Christ Jesus is our Hope (1 Tim. 1.1). He is no possibly/maybe last-ditch hope. He is the tower we can run to, the rock we can shelter in, the light in the darkness, the anchor in the storm. He is, and always will be, the Living God, and our Living Hope. Go to Him, trust Him, cling to Him, celebrate Him, and share Him.

Where does my Help come from? – Ezekiel 29-30. RBT Notes, 21st January

Tyre built its identity, and its fortune, on the Mediterranean Sea which lapped its walls. Down the coast, Egypt was equally proud of its achievements, and just as dependent on water. For her, it was the mighty Nile, with its almost miraculous life-giving powers. But just as Tyre must fall when God decrees, so Ezekiel is bringing God’s Word against Egypt. She will fall, too. The date of the prophecy tells us that the siege of Jerusalem has now been going on for a year, but Ezekiel’s sights are now on other nations.

APCAMEL_2797442bEzekiel compares Egypt to one of her river’s crocodiles, terrifying and powerful. Soon this crocodile will be trapped and dragged out into the desert, and left to die and rot there (vv.1-5). Why? Because she lured Jerusalem into a doomed alliance with her, to stave off the Babylonian threat. Neither could hope to outwit nor outmuscle Babylon, and Egypt’s time will soon come, turning her into a wasteland (vv.6-12). But notice: even for Egypt there will be astonishing grace after that generation has passed (vv.13-16). As always, God’s purposes with the nations, just as with His covenant people, is that “they will know that I am the Sovereign Lord” (v.16).

One more thing to notice here is that God’s justice often comes slowly. Tyre was besieged, but it was a costly and inefficient one, 13 exhausting years during which each side suffered terribly. God would leave her overthrow to another nation. Babylon will refocus her efforts on Egypt, and she will not escape (vv.17-20).

So wail, Egypt. Dead bodies, stripped wealth, and national disaster are all coming (30.2-4). Babylon’s fire won’t even be contained in Egypt (vv.5-9). And you read on. The same stuff, because the same God. He is the Lord, afterall. You can deny that He judges, you can deny that He will judge; but those beliefs will look increasingly desperate in the face of His actual judgment. Ask the people of Ezekiel’s refugee community. Ezekiel was the community crank for over ten years as he preached judgment. How foolish. But now, as Jerusalem is besieged, and there’s more to come, the prophet says, maybe they’re getting the message. Maybe the preacher is worth a listen.

How are we doing? The Judge is coming. This is great news. This is great news if you suffer and have been wronged. It’s great news, too, if you know that you’ve done wrong, and caused others to suffer. Why so? Because the Judge is also the Saviour. Come to Him now, and you’ll find Him to ready to save because of Jesus. Come in your guilt and your need, and you get what you need most of all, forgiveness and new life. But above all, come now. Tomorrow, as Jerusalem and Egypt were discovering, is too late.

The Effortless Ruler – Ezekiel 27-28. RBT Notes, 20th January

Tyre, Babylon, London, Tokyo. Cities have their wealth, their influence, their pride, and, as Ezekiel will remind us here, they will also have their day.

From his shack in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Babylon, Ezekiel’s lament for Tyre must have seemed like the mumblings of a madman. What fool or lunatic would ever believe that Tyre could fall? This city of international trade was the envy of the region and far beyond.

Listen to Ezekiel’s words in ch.27: she is likened to one of the trading ships which crowded her harbour, beautiful, skilfully crafted, decked out in luxury, worked by skilled men, and the envy of all (vv.3-11).

And wasn’t business booming? Ezekiel reels off the nations who traded with Tyre (vv.24). From the land we now call Spain right through to modern-day Saudi Arabia, business is hectic, her trade routes are full, and her order books are bursting. Business couldn’t be better, life is sweet. Life, says Ezekiel, will soon come crashing down. This ship will be sunk.

A storm is coming, a storm which this heavily-loaded ship won’t be able to handle (vv.25-27). We could say that, if she weren’t so successful, she wouldn’t have been broken up. But her godless greed has loaded her down, and when God’s judgment comes, she will sink. No one will be able to help, but many will weep for her (vv.28-32). Why wouldn’t they? They depended on her. But now? “You are shattered by the sea in the depths of the waters” (v.34). Now they are appalled and full of fear at her end.

Jan_Beerstraten_The_Old_Town_Hall_of_Amsterdam_in_Fire_1652And we think that our powerful nations, cities, values and cultural trends will last forever. How could New York not rule the world for millennia, with her wealth, power and prestige? How could the capitalist system not rule the world? How could secular humanism not claim the faith of every citizen on earth, given enough time? History teaches us that nothing lasts. Explorers stumble across ruins in dense jungles of what were once thriving cities and civilisations. Tyre seemed as fixed as the stars in the sky. Babylon seemed just as untouchable. They have both gone, disappearing under the judging hand of God.

Sitting proud in his wealth was the King of Tyre, and Ezekiel reserves a whole song for him (ch.28). God says that the man who thinks that he’s “as wise as a god” (v.6) will soon be food for the fish (v.8). He may have shone like a jeweler’s shop, and lived like a god, enjoying the blessings of the Almighty (vv.12-15), but he has covered himself in the filth of his greed. He will soon know that he has lost God’s favour, and as soon, he will go to his grave (vv.16-19). And lastly, to anxious Sidon, listening on in dread to this prophecy, the message is effectively the same: “the slain will fall within her, with the sword against her on every side (v.23).

There is a Kingdom which will endure like the sun. There is a tiny mustard seed which will grow, and outgrow the other trees of the garden. There is a peck of yeast which will fill the whole batch. There is a man of love, despised and rejected, whose rule of love will one day conquer all things. His Kingdom is one of lasting wealth, the riches of the saving love of God. “Jesus shall reign” is not the pious hope of the church, without biblical warrant; it is the solid conviction of Scripture, the promise which fires our faith (Rev.11.15).

Your savings might sink. Your health might fail. You may one day sing a lament for the loss of all you’ve treasured. Don’t ever lament your Gospel faith, though. Jesus is reigning even now, and our Gospel is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1.27). “What was Tyre?” is a good question to ask of history. “Who is Jesus?” is a vital one, for today and for all eternity.

God of the World – Ezekiel 25-26. RBT Notes, 19th January

They don’t care. They don’t care what God’s people believe. They couldn’t care less about the finer points of theology, or any points of faith. They’re just convinced that believers are narrow-minded troublemakers, and that the sooner they leave the scene, the better. People with faith are a nuisance, and their claims about God are an affront to modern morals and convictions. The enemies of faith want to make the church look weak and divided, and then the happier they are.

We could be thinking about 21st Century secular people, but Ezekiel has in mind about the late 6th Century BC states bordering the land of his people. The unthinkable has now taken place, the Babylonians have now overrun Jerusalem, and in their slaughter they’ve ransacked and then destroyed the city and Temple. As we enter this middle section of the book, in ch.25 Ezekiel is addressing those nations which surround his own people, the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Philistines, Sidonians and Egyptians. They’d all escaped the might of Babylon, and witnessed that empire’s fury against Jerusalem and Judah. Now they’re sure they’re safe, and feel very smug. But God has a word for them.

To the east of Judea, Ammon will receive its own judgment (vv.1-7), and so too will Moab (vv.8-10). Each has delighted in the demise of God’s people, each will soon be overrun by raiders from the east. To that south are the Edomites, Judah’s old enemies who colluded with the Babylonians. Then it’s the turn of the Philistines to the west. They will not escape, either, and just like the other nations, through God’s judgment “they will know that I am the Lord” (vv.15-17).

new_york_skyline__widescreen_wallpaperCh. 26 focuses on one more neighbour, the land of Sidon and Tyre, and particularly the great city of Tyre, with its proverbial wealth. Tyre was full of glee at Jerusalem’s overthrow (v.2), but very soon she will be attacked by the very destroyers of Jerusalem (v.7). A long, weary and devastating siege will follow.  And it did, as Ezekiel’s words came true, and Tyre was stripped of its wealth (vv.12-14). If Tyre once sang in her delight of Jerusalem’s fall, now the leaders of the coastlands will sing in lament of her own demise (vv.15-18). She will truly meet “a horrible end” (v.21).

The mistake we can all make is to think that if we want nothing to do with God, then He will have nothing to do with us. We couldn’t be more wrong, and more dangerously wrong. God is never distant from nor disinterested in any of us. He is near, engaged, aware, and has planned a day when He will meet every one of us, bringing us the perfect reward for how we’ve responded to Him with our lives.

And if that is bad news, then here’s the good news: Jesus. He is our rescuer, the Saviour of the World. We must make Him ours, today.

Broken by the Word – Ezekiel 24. RBT Notes, 18th January

Another sermon, another picture, and a terrifying announcement of judgment. The good news is that these sermons are nearly over. The bad news is that their warnings are just about to come true.

Remember the image of the cooking pot that the corrupt leaders of Jerusalem used as they celebrated their good fortune in Jerusalem, a few years earlier (ch.11)? God hasn’t forgotten it, and here He tells them that, although they think they are safe, they’re just about to be exposed, humiliated, and thrown down. “Because I tried to cleanse you, but you would not be cleansed from your impurity, you will not be clean again until my wrath against you has subsided” (v.13).

But he much does the preacher care? Give a man a message, and noone really knows if his heart is in it, or if he’s just doing his duty. In fact, no one knows if he has a heart at all. Maybe he has an easy life, far above the struggles of those he preaches to? Maybe he doesn’t know how to weep, even if he wanted to.

God brings Ezekiel a word no man or husband ever wants to hear. Now in his later thirties, Ezekiel could have been married for some years, and could be looking forward to  many more to comeoriginal. But God plans the unthinkable: his wife will die (v.16). Then His word is doubly unbearable, as His servant is forbidden to weep and mourn (vv.16-71). At the very moment Ezekiel is struck down by this terrible loss, he is told to stand firm, and not to show his grief. What is God doing with His servant?

The answer comes in what God is about to do with His own cherished Bride. He is about to strike down Jerusalem and its people. He only knows how much He loves His covenant people, and He only knows how severe the judgment will be which He will send on them. And God Himself will refuse to mourn. Then His remnant will know that God loves His standards more even than He loves His people. He gives the same command to Ezekiel’s hearers: they too must learn the anguish of hearing of a devastating loss which they are not allowed to grieve over (vv.20-24). Then, just maybe, they will start to see life, and their lives, as God does.

Their loss will come soon, as their delight, Jerusalem, is taken away from them (v.25). Then they will know that God is the Lord. Sometimes it’s only the loss of what we most treasure that will take our stubborn and now broken hearts away to God. No grief is beyond His purposes, or beyond His comforting grace. Believe Him, He knows what He is doing.