Ezekiel 39

Bible Passage: Ezekiel 39

39 ‘Son of man, prophesy against Gog and say: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Gog, chief prince of Meshek and Tubal. 2 I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. 3 Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. 4 On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all kinds of carrion birds and to the wild animals. 5 You will fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. 6 I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coastlands, and they will know that I am the Lord.

7 ‘“I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel. 8 It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord. This is the day I have spoken of.

9 ‘“Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up – the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel. 10 They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel. And they will plunder those who plundered them and loot those who looted them, declares the Sovereign Lord.

11 ‘“On that day I will give Gog a burial place in Israel, in the valley of those who travel east of the Sea. It will block the way of travellers, because Gog and all his hordes will be buried there. So it will be called the Valley of Hamon Gog. 12 ‘“For seven months the Israelites will be burying them in order to cleanse the land. 13 All the people of the land will bury them, and the day I display my glory will be a memorable day for them, declares the Sovereign Lord. 14 People will be continually employed in cleansing the land. They will spread out across the land and, along with others, they will bury any bodies that are lying on the ground. ‘“After the seven months they will carry out a more detailed search. 15 As they go through the land, anyone who sees a human bone will leave a marker beside it until the gravediggers bury it in the Valley of Hamon Gog, 16 near a town called Hamonah. And so they will cleanse the land.”

17 ‘Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: call out to every kind of bird and all the wild animals: “Assemble and come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you, the great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel. There you will eat flesh and drink blood. 18 You will eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth as if they were rams and lambs, goats and bulls – all of them fattened animals from Bashan. 19 At the sacrifice I am preparing for you, you will eat fat till you are glutted and drink blood till you are drunk. 20 At my table you will eat your fill of horses and riders, mighty men and soldiers of every kind,” declares the Sovereign Lord.

21 ‘I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them. 22 From that day forward the people of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God. 23 And the nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin, because they were unfaithful to me. So I hid my face from them and handed them over to their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. 24 I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their offences, and I hid my face from them.

25 ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name. 26 They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed towards me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. 27 When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations. 28 Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. 29 I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.’

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

From the beginning of creation, God has not allowed opposition to his perfect rule to go unjudged (Genesis 3). He is holy and perfect and destroys his enemies because of their rejection of him and his good plans (Genesis 6:5-8). But his judgement is also the means by which he rescues people who have come under the rule of his king and have been given new hearts by the Spirit (Ezekiel 37:24-25, 36:26-27). This rescue is for any who accept King Jesus because on the cross he took the judgement for us (John 3:14-16, Romans 5:6-10, Galatians 3:13-14). The risen Jesus will come back to bring judgement on those who continue to oppose his rule (Revelation 19:11-21, 20:7-15). He will bring those who’ve trusted him into a renewed world without evil or the pain and suffering it causes (Revelation 21).

 

Brief note on key themes of book

Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about the failure of the old covenant, and a promise of a new (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things:

  • God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness

  • his people have hard hearts which need to be transformed

  • only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.

 

Brief notes on the immediate context of the passage

In Chapters 34-37 God promised to give the exiles new-life with him. He would re-create them by his Spirit, cleanse them and give them obedient hearts under God’s king and in God’s presence forever.  The evil and rebellion within them, and the judgement they faced for it, would be removed. But what about the hostile and God-opposing powers around them? Forces that greedily seek their harm (38:10-13) and mock any hope they have for rescue. How could they enjoy God’s presence forever when they’re face such powerful oppression?

Using vivid picture language, Chapters 38-39 show that God needs to defeat his enemies if he’s going to rescue a people to be in his presence forever. Rescue and judgement must always go together. The sovereign LORD will totally judge the hostile powers that oppress his people and oppose his rule. God will win and so his people will be restored to his presence in a perfect world without evil. This sets the scene for the mind-blowing promises of Ezekiel 40-48.

Structure of the passage

Chapter 39 is naturally divided by the three ‘this is what the Sovereign LORD’ says statements in v1, 17 and 25. The Sovereign LORD is saying:

1)     Be certain: the LORD will judge for his name and our good (v1-16)

Gog represents the coalition of human individuals and institutions opposed to God’s rule and hostile to his people (Ezekiel 38:7). But God will judge his enemies. The Sovereign Lord is totally in control. He will drag Gog into battle and disarm him, knocking his weapon from his hands (v1-3). And he then destroys his enemies. (V4-5). This is certain to happen (v8).

Passages like this seem uncomfortably black and white. We question why such destruction is necessary. We find these verses hard to hear because of their implications for us and those we love. They leave our sense of who God is unsettled. But the LORD does this for his reputation. He is Holy (v7) The perfect ruler who cares about his world (v7). His judgement is totally justifiable, he won’t let those hostile to his perfect rule continue to oppose his good plans forever.

But his judgement also brings total justice. As he judges evil opposition, he will turn everything that hurt his people to their good (v9-10) and will completely cleanse the world of evil’s effects (v11-16). If we’re followers of Jesus, this should lead us to thankfulness. Our rebellion against God was judged, but the judgement fell on Jesus at the cross.

2)     Be assured: the LORD will bring down the hostile (v17-24)

The exiles were suffering bitterly at the hands of the ‘mighty men’ of Babylon who mocked them for all they’d lost (Psalm 137:1-3). But God is preparing to bring down those who harm his people. The LORD promises there will be a destruction of the princes of the earth. They seem strong now, but they will be a sacrificial-feast for the birds and wild animals (v17-20). God wins! He punishes his opponents and shows his people he is the LORD their God (v21-22). When Jesus returns as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords he will achieve this (Revelation 19:11-21). Like the exiles, we need to hear this. We live in a world where believers still experience horrific persecution. Here, the church is a small minority in a culture hostile to Christian teachings. But we can be assured that God wins for us and will bring an end to all the injustice and weariness his people experience.

 

3)     Be confident: the LORD restores his sinful people (v25-29)

The temporary judgement the exiles experienced showed that God totally opposes sin wherever it comes from (v23-24). He could have rejected the exiles forever. But the Sovereign Lord promises to restore his people: to have compassion on them, give them his Spirit and turn his face to them (v29). This proves he is holy because it shows he is the faithful LORD who keeps his covenant promises (v28). These promises were in the exiles’ future. We have already begun to experience them. God has shown compassion on us by cleansing us of our sin through Jesus. He has given us his Spirit so we can begin to enjoy his presence. God will never turn his face from us. But we can doubt the security of our relationship with God when we’re overwhelmed by our sin or our circumstances. We need to remember we’ll be in God’s presence and place forever (v28) so that we can be confident he is with us now.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What’s going on in this passage!?

We shouldn’t read this like a chronological narrative or get caught up in the details. It is a prophecy in vivid pictures that together are meant to leave us with a strong impression: that God will judge his enemies and restore his people for his name and their good.

 

Isn’t this destruction immoral and over the top?

See the notes on v1-16 above.

 

Was I really an enemy of God?

We have all profaned God’s holy name (v7) by talking and acting like he is not the perfectly good and wise ruler of us and his world. Without him changing us through Jesus, we’re anti-God (Romans 5:6-10). We make decisions that damage ourselves and others and stand in the way of his good plan for us and creation. His judgement is justifiable but also avoidable because King Jesus came to take our judgement at the cross (Romans 5:6-10) and so make us part of God’s rescued people (Ezekiel 37:24-25).

 

Who in the world is Gog?

The name may have been taken from a list of names in the genealogy of Noah (Genesis 10:2). Or he may have been an ancient and particularly wicked king whose story was well known to the exiles. Either way, the point is he’s just a figurehead. He represents all proud human society in rebellion against God and hostile to God’s people. He seems strong, but its not Gog vs. the exiles, it’s Gog vs. God.

 

What’s all that business with the cleansing of the land and the number 7 in v9-16?

God promises that he would bring his new people to a land where they’d enjoy his presence forever (see v28). The promise of the land is only fulfilled under a forever King (Ezekiel 37:25), ultimately in the eternal presence of God (37:26-28). Ezekiel 40-48 will show us more, but this is a picture of the new creation world when Jesus returns and God lives with his people (see Revelation 21). V9-16 in Ezekiel 39 show us what is necessary for that wonderful future to become a reality. The burning of their enemies’ weapons as fuel (v9-10) shows that God will turn everything that harmed his people to their good. The total burial of the enemy horde (v11-16) shows that God will completely cleanse them and his place of evil. In God’s forever place, all the bad things come untrue. The number 7 is the number of completeness (e.g. the 7 days of creation) and shows this cleansing is complete.

 

Summary of author’s main point

The LORD will totally destroy the hostile nations in judgement to show his holiness and will totally restore his sinful people to show his faithfulness.

 

Purpose for original audience

Don’t worry about the mighty forces opposed to you, but trust that the LORD is committed to you and will one day restore you to safety.

 

Purpose for us today

The LORD will judge his enemies and we will see our restoration: trust Jesus’ victory and live thankful and confident lives in a hostile world.

 

Key area of application

If we’ve not trusted in Jesus

The total judgement to come could end in our destruction or our good. Our hostility to the LORD does need to be judged. But because of God’s deep love for us the judgement fell on Jesus when he died on the cross. If we believe him and give up our hostility to God’s rule in our life, his judgement will free us from judgement. So turn to him for mercy and look forward to a world cleansed of all evil and pain.

 

If we’re trusting Jesus

Am I living like there’s a future judgement?

  • Thankful that we’re not facing it.

  • Living without fear in the face of a hostile culture.

  • Praying for the reassurance of persecuted believers around the world.

And am I living like I’ll see our total restoration?

  • Speaking into the doubts we have about our relationship with God when we’re aware of sin or overwhelmed by circumstances.

  • Confidently recalling our relationship with God is secure because he’s promised we will fully enjoy his presence in the future.

 

Ezekiel 37

Bible Passage: Ezekiel 37

37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me to and fro among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’

I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’

4 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”’

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’ 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”’

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 ‘Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, “Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.” Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, “Belonging to Joseph (that is, to Ephraim) and all the Israelites associated with him.” 17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.

18 ‘When your people ask you, “Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?” 19 say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph – which is in Ephraim’s hand – and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.” 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offences, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

24 ‘“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there for ever, and David my servant will be their prince for ever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them for ever. 27 My dwelling-place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them for ever.”’

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

The very first human beings were warned that the consequence for rejecting and replacing God was death (Genesis 2:16-17). Ever since Adam and Eve, human beings have rejected and replaced God with their own cravings and so have been spiritually dead- cut off from God and unclean before him facing eternal death as his judgment (Ephesians 2:1-10, Romans 6:23). But Jesus went to the cross to take the judgement for everything that makes us dead to God. And rose to life, ascended to heaven and poured out the Spirit of life (see Acts 2). The Spirit comes to bring us to new life – a new relationship with God -as we repent and trust in Jesus (Romans 8:1-5). This re-created life with God will continue into the new creation to come. When Jesus returns his re-created people will be given new bodies (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) and we’ll enjoy being in God’s presence forever (Revelation 21).

 

Brief note on context/key themes of book

Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about the failure of the old covenant, and a promise of a new (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things:

  • God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness

  • his people have hard hearts which need to be transformed

  • only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.

 

Structure of the passage

This is the fourth of four passages about a great transformation promised by God, which encompasses a new leadership (ch.34), a new land (ch.35), a new heart (ch.36) and a new creation (ch.37).

 

Chapter 37 is divided into two parts- Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones and its meaning (v1-14) and the sign-act of the two sticks being brought together and its meaning (v15-28). For preaching and application purposes, we have divided v1-14 into two parts:

 

1)     Do we realise we were spiritually dead? (1-3, v11)

This vision begins by showing us that we were irreversibly dead and unclean before God gave us spiritual life. The field of bones is a horrific vision which accurately portrays the spiritual state of the exiles (v11). The bones are very dry - there is no prospect for life for God’s people. And they are totally unclean before God. There’s no glorious vision of God and no prospect of his presence – they’re cut off from him. Chapters 1-33 have shown them that they have completely rejected God and his ways and he’s judged them. The Israelites’ hopelessness is realistic (v11). We were also spiritually dead before we were given new life through Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10). We had no relationship with God. We were unclean and so a God of goodness and life would have nothing to do with us. We didn’t just need a helping hand, we were bones that needed to be spiritually remade.

 

2)     Do we have confidence God recreates through his word and Spirit? (v4-14)

The exiles were spiritually dead. They had no confidence in themselves. But they should have great confidence in God! He completely recreates the bones through his word and Spirit! As the words of God were prophesied, the bones came together. As the breath – Spirit – entered the bones, the bones came to life (the words spirit, breath and wind in this passage all translate one Hebrew word). This two-part process hints at Adam who was formed from the ground and then given the breath of life (Genesis 2). Like the first creation, God’s word and Spirit would bring the exiles to life from nothing. The exiles could be confident in God– there will be life where there was no possibility of life. They would be brought out of the spiritual grave into relationship with God. We can be confident because we have been recreated through his word and Spirit when we hear and believe the word about Jesus.

 

3)     Do we appreciate our unity under the King? (v15-28)

In this sign-act Ezekiel is commanded to take two sticks representing the southern and northern kingdoms of Israel and bring them together in his hand. The kingdoms split from one another because of idolatry and pride (1 Kings 10). The southern kingdom (Judah) is where the exiles had come from. The northern kingdom (Israel, but here called Joseph/Ephraim) had been gone for centuries. Just as the people couldn’t give themselves spiritual life, the two kingdoms could never bring themselves together.  But the scattered people will be regathered and made one nation held by the LORD. This is only possible because they’ll be brought together under the rule of God’s King, the heir of David (v25). Jesus is that king and he has begun to rule. Jesus unites us to God and to one another. Our unity together goes deeper because it’s based on us sharing a re-created life with God which will continue forever when Jesus returns.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Were we really so bad we’re spiritually dead?

We find this hard to believe. We’re used to having something to contribute. We live in a culture that tells us to believe in ourselves and see the good within. But the truth is that we were spiritually dead, following our own cravings – for respect, comfort, success, relationship – rather than God (Ephesians 2:1-10). And we couldn’t bring ourselves back to God because we didn’t want to and wouldn’t want to. There was nothing in us that could be grown or groomed into relationship with God. We needed a spiritual resurrection!

 

Isn’t this passage all about physical resurrection?

No, though a God who can re-create spiritually dead people and bring them into relationship with him can also bring the physically dead to life! V11 is the key here – this vision describes the Israelites. They are not physically dead but cut-off from God and unclean because they have replaced God with idols. After the judgement of chapter 33 (the fall of Jerusalem) all their self-confidence is gone. The question is: will God raise sinful people under his total judgement to spiritual life with him? Thankfully for us, the answer is yes!

 

What’s the focus of the land all about in v15-28?

Not the physical land of Israel itself. These promises of plenty, unity, obedience and peace with God were not fulfilled when the exiles returned and have not been fulfilled since. The promise of the land is only fulfilled under a forever King (v25), ultimately in the eternal presence of God (v26-28). Ezekiel 40-48 will show us more, but this is a picture of the new creation world when Jesus returns and God lives with his people (see Revelation 21).

Summary of author’s main point

The sovereign LORD will recreate his dead people by His Spirit and bring them together with every blessing under His King so that they will dwell with Him forever.

Purpose for original audience

Do not despair at being cut off for sin but have confidence in the Lord; trust that he will give you new life together under his king in his presence.

 

Purpose for us today

The LORD has re-created us by His Spirit and so brought us together under his King’s blessed rule: thank God as you trust the Spirit to bring life.

 

Key area of application

If we’ve not trusted in Jesus

Do we realise we’re spiritually dead?

Will we take the challenge and put ourselves in the way of the re-creator’s voice by reading the Bible?

 

If we’re trusting Jesus

How can I be cultivating thankfulness for my Spiritual re-creation?

Am I confident enough in the Spirit’s work to share Jesus with others?

How can I be leaning further into the unity I have with others?

Ezekiel 36

Bible Passage: Ezekiel 36:16-38

 

36:16 Again the word of the LORD came to me:

 17 'Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight.

 18 So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols.

 19 I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions.

 20 And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, "These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land."

 21 I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.

 22 'Therefore say to the Israelites, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: it is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.

 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.

 24 '"For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.

 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.

 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the corn and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you.

 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine.

 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices.

 32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, people of Israel!

 33 '"This is what the Sovereign LORD says: on the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt.

 34 The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it.

 35 They will say, 'This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.'

 36 Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it."

 37 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: once again I will yield to Israel's plea and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as sheep,

 38 as numerous as the flocks for offerings at Jerusalem during her appointed festivals. So will the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD.' (Ezek. 36:16-38 NIV)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

It’s in Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve, newly created by God, turns their hearts against him, and first pollute the ‘land’ of Eden that God has given them with sin. By Genesis 6:5, people’s hearts were ‘only evil all the time’, and even a flood is unable to wash them clean. Indeed, it is Israel’s hard-heartedness which is fundamental to their disobedience problem (Psalm 95). The prophets see this as the reason for the exile (Zech 7:12-14), and Jesus diagnoses human hearts as the origin of human sin, and the source of defilement (Mark 7:21-23). What is needed, then, is cleansing from past defilement, and a new heart that will no longer be a fountain of sin. Under the New Covenant, predicted in Ezekiel 36, that is exactly what is on offer in the gospel (1 Cor 6:11, 2 Cor 1:21-22).

 

Brief note on context/key themes of book

Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about the failure of the old covenant, and a promise of the new (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things:

  • God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness

  • his people have hard hearts which need to be transformed

  • only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.

 

Structure of the passage

This is the third of four passages about a great transformation promised by God, which encompasses a new leadership (ch.34), a new land (ch.35), a new heart (ch.36) and a new creation (ch.37). Each chapter moves from the need, to the reality, to the future blessing.

Restoring God’s honour (16-23)

What is the need for a new heart and a new indwelling of God’s spirit? Surprisingly, it is not primarily about us. Instead, it is the restoration of God’s holy name. God’s holiness is seen in the fulfilment of his promises both to judge and to save. The primary (and absolutely right) reason for God’s salvation, is to prove his ability both to be ‘just and the one who justifies’ (Rom 3:26).

Restoring God’s people (24-27)

The series of ‘I will’ statements introduce a fivefold transformation – gathering (24), washing (25), transplanting (26), indwelling (27a), transforming (27b). This is permanent, inner change. At the cross, every single aspect of this restoration is brought to conclusion and completion.

Recognising God’s name (28-38)

The final section principally looks forward to the final day. Yes, in the present we know ourselves as we are (v.31-32) and have a genuine hatred for sin. But in the future, the land will be better than Eden, full to overflowing with God’s people (v.38). The key is the recognition of God’s name (“then they will know that I am the Lord” comes 62 times in Ezekiel) – a mark of the day when Jesus Christ returns (Phil 2:10-11).

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What does it mean about being unclean like when you have your period (17)?

The reference is to a part of the Old Testament law under Moses. Even then, there was no suggestion that there was anything sinful about having your period. But because blood had a special significance under the law of Moses, it was a reason for exclusion from God’s presence (like many similar restrictions for men – see Leviticus 15). It goes without saying that that restriction was for a time in the Old Testament, and doesn’t apply now.

 

Isn’t it unhealthy to be ashamed and disgraced (32)?

Modern culture often seems to produce a kind of self-loathing which is self-focussed and despairing, which, tragically, leads to things like self-harm. The kind of hatred of our sin that Ezekiel envisages is different in several key ways. It is not self-focussed – it comes from our understanding of God’s holiness. It is not despairing – it is the gateway to real hope. And it is not self-harming, because we know that God’s son was harmed for us, so that we will be kept safe forever.

 

Summary of author’s main point

God will restore the honour of his name, and solve the defilement of his people, by giving them cleansing, new hearts, and Spirit-empowered obedience.

Aim/purpose for original audience

As seemingly abandoned and hopeless exiles, trust that God will restore the honour of his name as you are cleansed and given a new, Spirit-indwelt heart.

Aim/purpose for us today

As seemingly hopeless sinners, trust that, in Jesus, God is restoring the honour of his name, as we are cleansed at the cross, and given new, Spirit-indwelt hearts.

 

Key area of application

Are we genuinely ashamed and disgraced by our conduct – do we hate sin simply because it is sin? If so, talk humbly about the heart transplant that you needed, and long confidently for the honour of God’s name.

 

Ezekiel 34

Bible Passage: Ezekiel 34:1-31

 

34:1 The word of the LORD came to me:

 2 'Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?

 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.

 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed those who are ill or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.

 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

 7 '"Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

 8 as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock,

 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

 10 this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

 11 '"For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.

 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.

 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.

 15 I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD.

 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

 17 '"As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.

 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?

 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

 20 '"Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: see, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.

 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away,

 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.

 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.

 24 I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

 25 '"I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety.

 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. a I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.

 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them.

 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid.

 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations.

 30 Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD.

 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares (Ezek. 34:1-31 NIB)

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

The story of humanity is one of being gathered and scattered. Adam and Eve, gathered in the garden, were effectively scattered when they were expelled from God’s presence in Genesis 3. Indeed, God’s judgement on those building the Tower of Babel was to scatter them (Genesis 11:8-9). Human kings, as shepherds, were intended to gather God’s people under his rule (2 Sam 7:7), but their failure (2 Kings 24:12-14) meant that God’s people were once again scattered into exile. Jesus correctly identifies them as like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). Identifying himself as the good shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:11), and by implication God himself (Psalm 23:1), Jesus rules his church through his under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:2-4), and will one day come again in judgement (Matt 25:32). One day, as the church’s ultimate shepherd, he will gather his sheep to be with him in the new creation, and bring his covenant of peace with them to total fulfilment (Rev 7:17).

 

Brief note on context/key themes of book

Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about the failure of the old covenant, and a promise of the new (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things

  • God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness

  • his people have hard hearts which need to be transformed

  • only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.

 

Structure of the passage

The passage breaks down into 3 parts, where God is promising to provide the kind of shepherd that God’s people, citizens of a destroyed city (33:21), now require.

The need for a shepherd (1-10, 17-21)

The existing leaders of God’s people are exploitative and cruel – they are brutal in the same way that the Egyptians were in Egypt (Ex 1:13-14). As a result of this failure of kingship, God’s people have become scattered (5-6). Leaders of every sort who have abused God’s people will face judgement (10, 17-21).

The reality of a new shepherd (11-16, 20-24)

God himself commits to shepherd his people personally. He seeks and saves, cares and knows, in a remarkable passage that contains the words “I will” a total of 12 times. He will do this through his shepherd-servant-prince descended from David. This shepherd both saves and judges (22).

The blessings of the new shepherd (25-31)

Through this shepherd, God promises a covenant of peace (25). His people will be gathered to a place of safety (25, 27, 28). They will know his covenant blessing (26, compare Lev 26:4-13). And they will enjoy relationship with their God (30-31), the long-promised covenant fulfilment from Exodus 6:7.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Who are the bad shepherds and the fat sheep?

It seems that the bad shepherds refer to Judah’s kings, whose failure led to the exile (see, for example, Eze 1:2’s namecheck on Jehoiachin). The fat sheep appear to be the wider leaders of God’s people, who have used their position for their own advantage (e.g. Eze 11:1-3).

 

Summary of author’s main point

God will judge Israel’s faithless leaders and will himself shepherd his people through his servant-shepherd-prince descended from David, who will bring in a covenant of peace.

Aim/purpose for original audience

To delight in God as shepherd, and look for his servant-shepherd-prince and the covenant of peace he brings.

Aim/purpose for us today

To delight in God’s care, found supremely in Jesus God’s servant-shepherd-prince, and enter the covenant of peace which he died to establish.

 

Key area of application

Recognise the failure of human leadership, and discover the exceptional care of God in Jesus, the judging and saving shepherd. He will bring to completion his covenant of peace.