God’s Presence and the Exile

 

Text: Ezekiel 11

Ezekiel 11 19

This week so far, we’ve talked about creation, the garden, and the tabernacle, exploring how they fit into the theme and story of God’s presence. Today I want to talk about exile, or that feeling you get when you know you aren’t home, and things aren’t right. It’s an ongoing theme for the Israelites. We see it when Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden, we see it when the Israelites are held captive in Egypt, and now we’re going to see it again as Israel and Judah are given into the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

 

Let’s do a quick fly-by to bring us to this point from where we left off in history. Moses and the Israelites wander around in the desert for a while and eventually reach their promised land in Canaan. The Israelites capture the land under the leadership of Joshua. After Joshua, Israel is led by a series of Judges, people who get Israel out of a bind after they have been stupid over and over (and over) again. After that, Israel is brought together under the kingships of Saul, David, and Solomon. David, like Moses, receives plans for a temple from God, and his son, Solomon completes them, the difference being that Solomon’s temple was much more grand and permanent than Moses’s tent. Moving on, after Solomon’s death, the people divide into northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms.

 

God’s people at this point have an ongoing problem. They aren’t following their covenant with God. They prostitute themselves to other gods. Even under dire warnings (Dt 29 and Jer 25, among many others), they continue to make their own way. They aren’t even getting along with each other, hence the divided kingdom. They simply do not get the point, and as a result, God, even while being slow to anger (Exo 34:6), has reached a point where he has to serve justice. And by that, I mean allow Assyrians and Babylonians to come clean house on them.

 

And clean house they do. Israel is pummeled and scattered by the Assyrians. Judah is taken by the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar sieges Jerusalem in about 598 BC and 587 BC, taking the people of Judah into captivity. The second time, the temple of Solomon is destroyed, too. You can find a particularly devastating account of this siege in Jeremiah 52. It’s great bedtime reading for all the kids.

 

What. In. The. World. At this point, it would sure seem like God’s people are done for. They had a pretty good run, but this must be the end.

 

But not all is lost. In Ezekiel 11:16-20, God shows Ezekiel a glimmer of hope, and has him relay the message to the others who are in exile. Even though they are scattered and captive, God is still their sanctuary (or their temple, if you will). He is going to give them back their land, and turn their hearts of stone soft. They’re going to be his people, and he’s going to be their God. Yet, in verses 22 and 23, God shows Ezekiel that his presence is leaving the temple, in the form of a strange cherubim-driven chariot. So God’s not even in his temple anymore, but he’s still with a few of his faithful people who are in exile, sustaining them.

 

Through Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, among others, we see God making some pretty big promises about coming out of exile, a new temple, a messianic king, and a renewed rule (kingdom) of God, for starters. But for the time being, exile is the reality for God’s people.

 

The Persians eventually conquer the Babylonians in 539 BC, and Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites in exile to go home if they want. Only a small portion go back. Maybe now things will get better, back to the good old days. We can get a new king, build the temple again, and God will be with us. We’ll have rest from our enemies.

 

And they do rebuild the temple (see Ezra and Nehemiah about all of this), but it isn’t anything near what it used to be (Hag 2:3), and there is no indication that God’s presence ever fills it like the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. Something is still not right. God’s people are back to their land, but it doesn’t really feel like home. They are struggling to find their identity again. They’re still not following God’s covenant. Where’s God? What is going on? It’s like the exile never really ended. And perhaps it still hasn’t ended. It has, at best, been replaced by new exiles into new Babylons over the centuries, and that’ll likely be what we continue to see until everything is restored.

 

If this whole thing makes you feel a little bummed, that’s just a taste of the exile feeling. The exile was massively painful for God’s people, and so much of scripture is dedicated to wrestling with the questions and emotions brought up by it. According to many, the narrative of scripture is shaped around it. And exile isn’t just the experience of Israel, it is a reality we share in, as well. While we give Caesar his due, really we are citizens of God’s dimension, heaven (Phil 3:20). So we remain faithful to our God, and hold on to a hope that there is something better just around the corner.

 

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” -Malachi 4:2

 

I hope that verse made you smile as it made me smile. There’s hope and a new day. There is indeed a new temple for the Israelites, with the presence of God, even. But it’s not the kind they’re expecting. More on this tomorrow.

 

-Jay Laurent

God’s Presence and the Garden

Genesis 2 8

Text: Gen 2:4 – 3:24

 

Yesterday we began talking about the presence of God, starting with the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. We saw that God not only created the earth as a place for us to live, but also as a place for him to be present with us. The heavens and earth are God’s temple.

 

As we move on in Genesis, starting with 2:4 and going to the end of chapter 2, we find another creation account, and its focus is different than the first, paying special attention to humans and what seems to be agriculture. We are introduced to a garden, and people to cultivate and rule over it: Adam (which literally means man or mankind) and Eve (which literally means living or life). The garden also includes two special trees, the tree of life, and tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of knowledge could have easily been called the tree of certain death, because God promises they will die if they eat from it. But they can eat from anything else.

 

This garden is a special place. It seems to be a focal point, almost like a holy of holies for God’s cosmic temple. It is sacred space that he shares with his creation. God walks in the garden and is present there with Adam and Eve. Can you imagine just sharing space with God, doing some gardening, and God just walks by, like it was a normal thing? “Oh, hey God.”

 

That kind of closeness and intimacy with God in his presence was how it was for Adam and Eve, until something happened. There’s a talking serpent. This mischievous serpent character convinces Eve that she won’t in fact die if she eats from the tree of knowledge, she’ll just have knowledge like God. This is tricky because it has just enough truth in it. Maybe you would call it a white lie, but still a deception. Eve eats from the tree of knowledge, and Adam follows suit.

 

As Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they disobeyed God’s direct command and took matters into their own hands, going down a path to prematurely obtain the knowledge of good and evil. They likely had a childlike innocence about them before, and maybe God would have in time revealed this knowledge of good and evil to them in his way, in his time. Well, now things were going to be different for them. They suddenly realized they had no clothes and hid from God. They were ashamed. God finds out what they did (surely he already knew what they did) and kicks them out of his garden.

 

The consequences were very serious. God has cherubim (winged creatures sort of like a sphinx, not at all like a baby with wings) and a flaming sword guard the entrance so they can’t enter and eat from the tree of life. They are exiled from the garden, they are effectively sentenced to death by no longer having access to the tree of life and God’s presence. They will have to work much harder to grow food to survive, and some other fun consequences.

 

Reading an account like this makes you think a lot. What sorts of things are symbolized by the tree of life, and tree of knowledge? What is a serpent doing there? Are we really talking about fruit? I have no definitive answers to these questions. The beauty of this passage is that it forces you to think more every time you read it, and I believe that is why it is there.

 

The garden account is ripe with symbolism to interpret. While it is an account about real people, it is written in a way that makes it much bigger than that. Adam and Eve can be seen as archetypes for us, meaning the things that are said of them are also true of us. Adam is formed from dust (Gen 3:19), so are we (Ps 103:14). Eve is made from one of Adam’s sides, while we recognize that men and women are each other’s halves in a way. They face temptation and shame, so do we. They do things in defiance against God, and so do we (Rom 3:23), and as a result of that defiance, they exiled themselves from God’s garden, as we frequently exile ourselves from God’s presence when we sin, in a way. Their story is much like ours.

 

This isn’t the most encouraging chapter in the story of God’s presence. It’s one of the lower places we could go in scripture. The reality is that sin and the presence of God are not compatible things. Sin, separation from God, and death are all connected, if not three heads of the same monster. Of course, God knows this, and still wants to be present with us, so there has to be some kind of remedy for sin. Ultimately, we know that remedy to be Christ, but there was a progression to get there.

 

Tomorrow we’ll look at Exodus 40 – how God used a man named Moses to renew his presence among his people.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

In His Sanctuary

 

 

 
Ezekiel 40-42

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Saturday, April 1

Confession time: It is really easy for me to skim over these chapters filled with rich detail and precise measurements of the ideal temple. However, I am trying my best to pull some application out of this beautifully described temple.

I do not believe that God would give Ezekiel this vision for no reason. Perhaps God gave Ezekiel this vision to make a point about how God wants the people in exile to live. As a child I can remember being told not to run in the sanctuary. So, instead we learned to play tag, fast-walk edition. I can remember my parents telling me that we did not want to run in God’s house.

Whether it be a sanctuary in our modern-day church, or a temple during the times of Ezekiel, The Holy Spirit dwells in these places of worship. Perhaps God shares vivid imagery of this temple to express how badly he wants to dwell with the Israelites again. God awaits the reconstruction of the temple because he wants to live among the people. God yearns to spend time with us! However, like my parents had to tell me to stop running in the sanctuary, sometimes we need to be disciplined to put us in our place. God had to discipline his chosen people in hopes that they would turn away from their sin and follow the desires of God. In order to change their ways of idolatry and sin, drastic changes were necessary.

Phew! Aside from the description of the breathtaking temple, we have some application!

I pray God blesses you as you continue your daily walk with Him!

-Amber McClain

Hallelujah – Praise God – Amen

Nehemiah 11-13

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Sunday, December 11, 2016              

Today’s Bible reading wraps up some of the bleakest days in Israel’s Old Testament history due to the exile of God’s chosen people. Nehemiah’s courageous leadership prompted walls being restored and repaired to fortify Jerusalem. The precious contents of the temple could now be protected and temple service could begin again. A re-population of the Holy City was beginning to take place and the ancient promises of Yahweh were again being demonstrated to His people when they worshiped Him only.

The bulk of chapters 11 & 12 basically read as a holy “roll call.” While the inclusion of the long list of names do not make for much intriguing reading, (comparable to phone book reading for pleasure perhaps), it should prompt the reader to understand how a God of detail fondly remembers those who have been faithful to the cause, working to restore and revive His name.  These were brave families returning to a city in ruins, desperate to see God’s glory shine again in their land.

The end of chapter 12 sets the scene for one of the greatest days in the history of this holy community – a party of all parties! Imagine the pageantry of a redeemed people taking back their rightful place as they occupied the strategic places of Jerusalem and dedicated the walls. The atmosphere must have been electric and how the people must have rejoiced.

In chapter 13 it is apparent that Nehemiah returned to the king of Babylon for an undisclosed amount of time. Upon return to Jerusalem he finds that some of Israel’s enemies are residing and thriving within the city once again. He is outraged and leads a purging once again of foreign worship and mixed marriages. He institutes financial support of the temple and demands observance of the Sabbath.

He concludes the chapter and book by asking God to fondly remember him with favor for the work he has done there.

Reflecting over today’s reading this entire account reminds me of an upcoming event where new residents will move in, dedication and reforms will begin to unfold, and great service will be remembered in celebration. A “changing of the guard” of our own Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith headquarters will soon be taking place. Slated for the second week of January 2017, a new CEO, Chief Executive Officer, will begin to learn and assume duties as the leader of our General Conference and Bible College in Atlanta, Georgia. I am diligently praying for Seth Ross as he takes the baton from Dr. Joe Martin to lead our organization. I hope you are too.

The Book of Nehemiah provides a great illustration of how prayer and hard work can accomplish seemingly impossible things when a person determines to trust and obey God. Nehemiah was a man of responsibility, vision, prayer, action, cooperation, and compassion. Thank you, Dr. Joe, for displaying those same qualities over the years. We are excited about the future as Seth Ross, another dedicated leader, takes the reins to rightly divide the Word of Truth and the work of God in our conference. May it be our prayer that just as in Nehemiah’s day, many will hear and answer the call to follow as well. May you remember us all with favor, O God, as we long for your Son’s return and work for Your renown!

Julie Driskill

 

Julie Driskill is an encourager who celebrates the process of Divine pilgrimage wide open.  She’s never met a stranger and her distinguishable laugh is a dead give away in a crowded room.   

Receiving a B.A. in Education from the Clayton State University, Morrow, GA, she jointly attended Atlanta Bible College where she studied and worked for several years.  Julie’s philosophy of life revolves around service.  One of her favorite life quotes is “Service is the rent we pay to be living.  It is the very purpose of life….and not something you do in your spare time.” – Edelman

With the steadfast support of friends and family over the past twenty years she has pursued this goal of service by developing and implementing the work of Higher Ground Camp, an Ohio based 501 (c) (3).    

For the past two years Julie has expanded her duties to collaborate with Family & Youth Initiatives, of New Carlisle, Ohio, as an in-school educator for the Real Life Teen Choices Program. She teaches sexual risk avoidance curriculum to students in grades 6-12 in public and private schools in eight counties. Developing after-school leadership programs and peer to peer mentoring networks for at-risk youth has become her specialty.

 

Adam, Seth, Enosh … (I Chronicles 1-2)

Monday November 14

 

i-chronicles

Andrew Hamilton

The list of names continues, and a majority of the words in these first two chapters are name.  We have the list from Adam to Jacob in chapter 1, and then the tribes of Israel through the time of David.  There are many names in here that are familiar, and many that I don’t recognize at all.   What is the purpose of this genealogy?  Who wrote it?   Why was it written?  Who was it written for?  Why do I care?

 

Although scholars do not all agree about who wrote it, and we can’t know all the details about why it was written, both Jewish and Christian traditions provide the same possible answer.  The writing is credited to Ezra, as are the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  1 and 2 Chronicles were written after the return from exile, probably during the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

God’s chosen people had been in exile for 70 years.  At least most of the people returning to Jerusalem  had never actually been in Jerusalem, and all they knew was the Babylonian captivity.  This book was probably written as a reminder and source of hope for God’s people.  The genealogy shows them where they came from, reminds them of their great ancestors, the growth of the Israelites into a great nation, and where they fit into God’s plan.

 

So, the hard question for me is still why do I care to read all of these names, most of which I can’t pronounce.  If we want to understand and learn from the Israelites, Gods chosen people, we need to understand what was important to them.  Their genealogy and history of their people was one of these important things to them.  It was used to show how they were all related together, and remind them of all the great people in the history of their nation.

 

As you read this, try to read every name.  Try to think about the names, and why the ones you know were important to the history of Israel.  Try to imagine going to your promised homeland that you had never been to, that was destroyed, that needed tons of work, and think how knowing your history would give you hope.

What do we use to give us hope?  What do we need to look at daily to remember the hope we have?