words to the exiles
Week 67 - Read Ezekiel 1-24
Key Concepts: The key concept in this portion of Ezekiel is that even though the people were in exile, God had not left them.
Stories: The stories in this section include the prophet’s call and early visions, prophetic acts, declarations concerning the coming judgment of Jerusalem, a series of Temple visions, a variety of images of Israel, images of the final phase of Israel’s history and the siege of Jerusalem.
Brief Summary: We begin a new section of the Biblical story with the writings of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel is a priest who is taken into captivity with the first group of Israelites to go into exile in Babylon. His prophetic mission only begins once he is there and includes words to those back home and words to those in exile. What this means is that he is a contemporary of Jeremiah, though we are not certain if they knew one another. Ezekiel is known for a number of things, but especially for his fantastic visions, such as the wheel in the sky surrounded by living creatures. I encourage you to pay attention to these visions because we will encounter many similar ones when we reach the Book of Revelation.
We begin with Ezekiel’s call to be a prophet. This begins with the aforementioned vision of the living creatures and the wheel. In the midst of the wheel he sees a throne and on it is the living God. God then gives the prophet five commissions. These are that Ezekiel, addressed as the Son of Man, is to first speak only what God tells him to speak (this is shown by Ezekiel eating a scroll); second to be more determined to speak the truth to Israel than they are to listen; third to speak to the exiles; fourth to become a watchman over Israel in order to warn them of what is to come; and fifth to speak only when God directly commands him to speak.
Ezekiel makes great use of prophetic actions. These actions are in a way, mini-plays which depict what is going to happen to Israel. Using a sun-dried brick he builds siege-works against it to portray Jerusalem’s fate. He lies on one side for days at a time in order to show how many years the people of Israel will be in captivity. He mixes grains in order to show that scarcity is coming upon the people. He also shaves off his hair and beard to show how shamed the people of Jerusalem will become. Following these actions we come upon a series of prophecies which are all followed by the words, “Then they will know that I am the Lord.” You will find these words used throughout the book.
The next large section concerns the Temple Visions. Ezekiel is mysteriously transported (we are not sure if this is a vision or an actual trip he makes back to Jerusalem) to the Temple. Once there he watches as the Glory of the Lord (in a sense God’s presence) leaves the altar in the Temple, moves to the threshold of the Temple, moves to the East door, and then into the heart of the city of Jerusalem. Ezekiel then uses a series of allegories to describe Jerusalem, including that of the unfaithful wife, the eagles, and the cedars. In this section he also offers up a significant piece of hope; the children of the exiles will not be punished for what their parents have done. This offers the exiles the possibility of eventual return to the land.
The prophet concludes this section with words about the fate and fall of Jerusalem. God tells Ezekiel that he should not mourn nor weep for the dead, for they had brought this upon themselves.
1. What do you make of Ezekiel’s fantastic visions?
2. What do you make of the symbolism of the Glory of God moving away from the altar and Temple?
3. Why is it important that the children not be punished for the sins of the parents?
Week 68 - Read Ezekiel 25-32; Psalm 137
Key Concepts: The key concept in this section is that even though God intends to punish Judah for their unfaithfulness, through the actions of other nations, God will do the same to those other nations because they were evil in the process.
Stories: What we will find in this section are oracles against Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre and Egypt. The oracles against Tyre and Egypt are lengthy.
Brief Summary: The first four oracles, those dealing with Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia are, as one commentary put it, formulaic and comprise their own set within this section.
Ammon was a nation formed prior to the entry of the Hebrews into the land. The Ammonites were continually at war with Judah and Israel. Their leaders were behind the assassination of Gedeliah which we read about in the end of Jeremiah and Kings. Moab, which occupied the land east of the Dead Sea, was also an ongoing enemy of Israel even though they were ethnically related. Edom became a nation earlier than Israel and was located south and east of the Dead Sea. They were continually fighting with Israel and during the Babylonian period took control of much of southern Judah. The Philistines occupied the southern coastal plain. They too were in continual warfare with Israel and also exerted control over parts of Judah following the Babylonian conquest.
The theological rationale for the punishment of these four nations becomes apparent in that they continually tried to derail God’s plans for Israel and thus God’s plans for the restoration of creation. The language used to describe the actions of these nations is that they “acted revengefully against the house of Judah.” Thus they showed a lack of pity and of justice; two things which God desires.
The first of the two longer oracles in this section concerns Tyre. Tyre was a Phoenician (a coastal seafaring people) city located on an island off shore from what is now Lebanon. It had two good harbors and was an ally of both Israel and Judah. In the oracles, Ezekiel declares that Tyre will be destroyed by the Babylonians. This does not occur. Tyre resists and is only conquered later by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. The reasons for God’s judgments against Tyre are based on Tyre’s inordinate pride and their unwillingness to come to the aid of Jerusalem when it fell, even though the two cities had been coconspirators against Babylon. Ezekiel describes Tyre’s fall in terms of the island being wiped clean and becoming no more than a rock. The prophet also describes the mourning of the other Phoenician cities at Tyre’s destruction.
The second longer oracle focuses on Egypt. Egypt is to be punished for the same reasons as Tyre; their prideful behavior and their unwillingness to come to the aid of Jerusalem. The punishment will come on the Day of the Lord (a concept used by prophets since the time of Amos); the day when God will judge all gentile nations. Babylon will be the agent of punishment by destroying this once great nation. Egypt will take its place in the underworld with all of the other nations that had opposed Israel and Judah.
Psalm 137 is one the most disturbing of all the Psalms in that it describes the absolute depths of despair experienced by the exiles in Babylon and their overwhelming desire to punish Babylon for what they have done (“Happy will be the one who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock”).
1. What did you think about God’s punishing nations that God used to punish Judah?
2. How do you deal with the reality that some of Ezekiel’s prophecies did not come true?
3. How do you come to grips with the despair and anger in Psalm 137?
Week 69 - Read Ezekiel 33-48
Key Concepts: The key concept in this section is that God is a God of resurrection and will restore God’s people to their rightful place in the world.
Stories: This section consists of four separate parts. They are the fall of Jerusalem, the resurrection and restoration of Israel, the visions concerning Gog and Magog and finally a vision of the restored temple and the return of the Glory of God to the nation.
Brief Summary: This section is one that is focused upon death and resurrection. It was a powerful reminder to those in exile, as well as a powerful reminder to us, that God is always a God of new life and new possibilities. Ezekiel begins with his call to be the watchman over Israel who tells the people of Judah what is about to befall them. He is to proclaim that Jerusalem will fall because of the sins of those who live there. This section includes Ezekiel getting the news that indeed the city has fallen and God’s will has been accomplished.
The next section describes God’s planned restoration of Israel. It begins with a vision of evil shepherds who had led their people astray. But Ezekiel then proclaims that God will establish a new shepherd, one descended from the lineage of David to rule over them. Further God will make with them a covenant of peace and will send down showers of blessings (34:26) so that they may not only dwell securely but be blessed. These showers will be followed by internal renewal. “And a new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you…and I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (36:26-27). One of the great images from this portion of Ezekiel is that of God restoring life to the dry bones of a dead people (37:1-14).
We next enter into some early apocalyptic writing describing the great cosmic battle between God and God’s enemies. The enemies, Gog and Magog, are described as those from the north. Because there is no specific association of them with a particular nation, people have associated them with everyone from Babylon to Russia.
Regardless, it becomes apparent that the battle that is shaping up includes all of the Gentile nations allied against God’s people. God will act to defeat these enemies with “pestilence and bloodshed.” God’s victory will make God’s presence, power and holiness known among the nations. The destruction will be so great that it will take seven years to remove all of the dead and bury them. The result of all of this will be that the house of Jacob will be able to put its shame of exile behind it.
The final section of Ezekiel begins in chapter 40 and concerns the restoration of the Temple. The restoration is critical because only with a Temple can the people of God completely fulfill their religious obligations to God. Ezekiel begins by describing in a vision his being carried to the Temple mount. The Temple images Ezekiel reports are similar to those of Solomon’s Temple in which Ezekiel had probably served before being carried into exile. There is great symmetry in the Temple design which we will witness again in Revelation when we read about the New Jerusalem. Along with the restoration of the Temple comes the restoration of God’s presence in Jerusalem. Recall that the Glory of the Lord had left the Temple and Jerusalem and dwelt among the people in exile. Now it returns (43:4) along with the promise that God will dwell there forever. Even so there will be restrictions on those who can serve in the Temple. No more foreigners or those who were not faithful to God. The book concludes with a series of regulations, land divisions and a description of the New Jerusalem.
1. What do you take away from the images of resurrection and restoration?
2. How do you deal with the kinds of apocalyptic passages encountered here?
3. Where do you think that the Glory of the Lord now resides?
Week 70 - Read Obadiah and Psalms 82-83
Key Concepts: Similarly to Ezekiel and potions of Jeremiah, Obadiah declares that some of the neighboring nations will be punished for their roles in Judah’s destruction and that Judah will be restored.
Stories: Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament and is divided into three sections. The first section concerns the indictment of Edom, the second the judgment of the nations and the third the restoration of Judah. The two Psalms deal with God’s judgment over the nations and a prayer for deliverance from oppressing nations.
Brief Summary: Obadiah can be seen as a short summary of some of the previous larger prophetic works that we have read. As mentioned above it contains the three basic elements of the story of God’s people post exile. The first is that specific nations that opposed Judah will be dealt with. In this case we are looking at Edom. Edom comes in for specific mention because according to Genesis the Edomites and the Israelites are related. Therefore brothers are to treat each other with kindness. Edom has not done so. Edom has violated the covenant by seizing land and goods following the Babylonian invasion. Even though Edom is supposed to have many wise men, it has not shown that wisdom.
The second part of the post-exile prophecies concerns the judgment of all nations. “For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done so it will be done to you, your deeds shall return upon your own head.” While Edom is in for particular punishment, none of the nations that have harmed Judah will be able to escape. This is one of the great truisms of the scriptures…what goes around comes around. No one is able to escape the consequences of their actions.
The third portion of Obadiah concerns the restoration of Judah. “But in Mount Zion there will be those who escape, and it shall be holy. The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.” A portion of this restoration will be that the people of Israel will once again possess the lands taken from them. “…they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria and Benjamin shall possess Gilead. The exiles in Halah, who are of the people of Israel, shall possess Phoenicia as far as Zarephath.” In other words God will restore the land to God’s people. The last verse however is a reminder that all of this belongs to God.
Psalm 82 takes the view that the world is run by a large council of gods, of which the God of Israel is the head. The other gods have judged unjustly and thus the God of Israel must judge them. God declares that the rest of the gods must “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” The final declaration is that even though they are gods and sons of the Most High, they will die like men because they are not faithful to God’s desire for creation.
Psalm 83 is a prayer for national deliverance. The situation is dire. The enemies of Israel, including Edom, Moab, Gebal, Ammon, Philistia, Tyre and Assyria have all conspired to wipe Israel off of the face of the earth. “They say, ‘ Come let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more.’” The writer of the Psalm asks that God destroy those who had tried to destroy Judah. “Oh my God make them like the whirling dust, like chaff before the wind….let them perish in disgrace.” The Psalm concludes with a request that all God’s enemies know that God is Lord of the earth.
1. Why do you think that Obadiah was kept as part of the canon?
2. What do you think of the image of a council of gods?
3. Have there been times when you would have prayed a Psalm like Psalm 83?