Imagery of sheep and shepherd are found all throughout the Bible, in both the old and the new testaments. Because of this, I think we sometimes forget some of the metaphorical imagery that comes with the sheep and shepherd dynamic. Sheep are not an intelligent animal in any sense of the word. They often wander off and get themselves in trouble. When threatened by predators, sheep will often clump themselves together in such a tight pack, that sheep in the center will often suffocate. All in all, sheep are fully reliant on their shepherd for protection, food water, and for their own survival.
Here in John 10, when Jesus is speaking about sheep, and he being the good shepherd, the people probably would have seen it as insulting when he compared them to sheep. But the point that Jesus is trying to make, is that like sheep we could not depend on ourselves for salvation from the consequences of our bad choices. God had to send us a shepherd who would “lay down his life for his sheep”. So he sent us His son Jesus. And as Jesus said, no one took his life from him, but he laid it down of his own accord. I don’t think we could have asked God to send us a better shepherd than who He sent us, His one and only son, Jesus. In just over a week, the Thanksgiving season will begin, and I think that this year we need to spend time thanking God, for the gift of the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life willingly, for us his sheep.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 9:1 – 10:21
Tomorrow’s passages will be the rest of John 10 and Luke 10.
There is something so beautiful about watching a plant grow from a little seed to a strong healthy plant. Christians are compared to plants in this way. A spiritually mature Christian should still continue to grow in their walk with God.
Jesus often taught the crowds and his disciples using parables, which can be found all throughout the Synoptic Gospels. With seven parables in Matthew chapter 13, the parable of the sower is the only parable in this chapter that doesn’t start with “The Kingdom of heaven is like” because this parable is how the Kingdom of God is going to begin. In fact, it is already happening right now.
There are four different scenarios of what becomes of the seeds that are sown that Jesus depicts here, being eaten by birds, scorched by the sun, choked by thorns, or producing a crop. Which respectively relate to being taken by the evil one, trouble and persecution, worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth, or yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. Out of four scenarios there is only one that has roots, which leads to salvation. By having the deep roots, a foundation on God and his word, you will bear fruit. Fruit that can show God’s love and share the hope that we have with others and by doing so yield sixty or a hundred times what was sown.
To go along with the analogy, John 15:1-8 adds on to it and explains the dire need of having deep roots in God and Jesus.
John 15:5 says, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”
So how are you going to strengthen your foundation and bear fruits? Be a tree! Three out of the four groups are between a rock and a hard place. So defy the statistics. Commit your life as a living sacrifice for God bearing cherries, apples, bananas, and pears. Put in the effort to focus on your foundation. Make it a priority to spend quality time with God. Paul tells us that fruit will come as a result of our faith, so when they do, nurture them, prune, water, weed, do whatever it takes to help them grow. The parable of the sower shows the importance of how we are living our lives right now. So go, be a tree, rooted in God and overflowing with fruit!
Matthew 8:1-13 & Luke 7- Jesus heals a man with Leprosy
Before we get into today’s story, we need to understand the Old Testament law dealing with leprosy. Leviticus 13:1-46 talks in great detail about leprosy. There, we find that leprosy is a skin disease that is more than skin deep, it’s highly infectious, it defiles a person, anyone with leprosy must cover their mouth (this sounds like a mask), be separated from other people (social distance), live outside the town (this sounds like isolation), wear torn clothes, and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!”
In Matthew 8, we find the story of a man with leprosy. Instead of staying away, we’re told, “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him [Jesus] and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” I believe this man had great faith. He knew Jesus could heal him, he just didn’t know if Jesus would be willing to. And he violated the law so he could get close enough to Jesus to find out.
Matthew 8:3 says, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.” I find this very moving. Jesus demonstrated how much he cared for this man by not just healing him – which was astounding enough. Jesus also touched him. By touching the man, Jesus would have become defiled – made unclean himself. And remember, since no-one could touch a leaper, who knows how long it had been since this man had someone actually touch him. I can’t imagine what that touch meant to the man.
Matthew 8:4 goes on to say that Jesus told the man, “See that you don’t tell anyone…” We find this same story in Mark, and we’re told in Mark 1:45, “Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”
In this story, I see that leprosy compares well with sin. Sin runs more than skin deep, it is highly infectious, it defiles a person, and whether we admit it or not, it makes us unclean, and separates us from God. When Jesus went to the cross, he took our sin on himself, causing him to be defiled. But he demonstrated his obedience to God and his love for us by doing this anyway. But Jesus’ sacrifice means nothing for us unless we each have faith in Jesus, come submit before him, and ask to be healed (forgiven). Are you willing to get close enough to Jesus to find out what he can do for you?
Finally, at the end of the story, the man disobeyed Jesus’ direct command to him to tell no one. Jesus commanded us to tell everyone. How are you doing with that?
In Jerusalem there was a pool, called Bethesda, where blind, lame, and paralyzed people would gather. My Bible has a footnote that says John 5:4 isn’t in the most reliable manuscripts. John 5:4 says “From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.” If this verse isn’t legitimate, the rest of the story doesn’t make sense, so I’ll assume it is valid.
Anyway, there was a man there who had been an invalid for 38 years. Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well. This seems like a strange question to ask someone who was an invalid. But who knows, maybe he was making a good income begging, and wanted to stay in his condition.
Instead of saying, “Yes!”, the man started making excuses – he replied that he didn’t have anyone to help him into the pool when the water was stirred, so he never got into the water first.
Jesus then told him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
This is a curious miracle. The man didn’t ask Jesus to heal him. The man didn’t have faith that Jesus could heal him – when asked, he didn’t even know who had healed him. Also, there were many sick people there, and Jesus only healed this one man. First, I do have to acknowledge this is a tremendous example of grace. But I do have to wonder, why did Jesus heal this man?
If we keep reading the story, we find that instead of being happy for the man that had just been healed, the religious leaders criticized him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. He told them he was just doing what he was told by the man who had healed him. When asked who that was, he didn’t know.
Later, Jesus found him again and told him to stop sinning or something worse would happen to him. (We can assume Jesus meant the final judgement, but we’re not told.) After this, the man went back to the religious leaders to tell them Jesus had healed him – on the Sabbath.
Now, I think we are finally at the point of understanding why Jesus healed this man. I wonder if Jesus wanted to shake up the understanding of the religious leaders of his day, and this was a good way to get their attention. He told them, “My father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” Notice that Jesus said “My father” instead of “our father”.
The Jews recognized that Jesus was telling them that He is the son of God. In this chapter, He also called himself the “Son of Man”, which they would have recognized as a messianic reference from Daniel 7:13l. They were furious that not only was Jesus breaking the Sabbath, he was claiming that He was (is) the son of God. And they made the mental leap to say that if Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God, he was claiming to be equal with God.
They studied the scriptures regularly, and thought they would “earn” eternal life because of that. Jesus pointed out, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day couldn’t accept what He was telling them. Instead, they just wanted to kill Him. What about you? Do you acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God who will one day judge the living and the dead? To paraphrase James 2:19, the demons acknowledge this too – and shudder.
If you do acknowledge Jesus, what are you going to do about it? I would encourage you to take a cue from the man who was cured, and obey what Jesus said. No, don’t pick up your bed and walk – instead read your Bible to understand all Jesus taught about, and obey all of that. Finally, we should all take to heart Jesus’ warning to the man, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
Because, as we’re reminded in John 5:28-29, “… for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 5
Tomorrow we read Matthew 12:1-21, Mark 3, and Luke 6 as we continue in our Bible reading plan.
My mother always loved to put together puzzles, the more pieces, the better. It always amazed me how patiently she would work at it, but in the end, when all the pieces were together you could quite clearly see the complete picture. As I read Zechariah, all the puzzle pieces haven’t been assembled yet, and we can’t see clearly the complete picture, but we can see the incredible love that God has for Israel, the land, and his children.
Chapters 1-6 is about the rebuilding of the physical temple, Chapters 7-8 are about them obeying the laws of God, and Chapters 9-14 tells that God will send a Messiah who will be Priest and King. This Messiah will take away our sin and he will rule over us.
He has promised to bless those who returned from exile to Jerusalem. In 8:3, He says “I will return to Zion, And dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, The Mountain of the Lord of hosts, The Holy Mountain.” Then we skip down to 8:8 “I will bring them back, And they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, They shall be My people And I will be their God, In truth and righteousness.” He wanted them to build His temple in Zion once again, and he encourages them to let their hands be strong, and not to worry about their enemies because He will protect them. 8:21 says “Let us continue to go and pray before the Lord And seek the Lord of hosts.” It even says that people from other languages will grasp the sleeve of the Jews and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” He tells the people that He will take care of them. He will protect them from their enemies. He has promised them good things, but it always comes with a choice for the people. It has been a choice for them during this entire story, just as it is a choice for us today. They must obey his commands.
In 9:9, we have a prophecy about Jesus “Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey. A colt, the foal of a donkey.” This was fulfilled when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in the New Testament. They were looking to their King to come like Thor in the Avengers with power and great glory. They imagined their Messiah coming in on a royal stallion as a warrior to save them. In verses 11-17, he asserts that He will save His people, His flock. In Chapter 12 he writes about the coming deliverance of Jerusalem. In Chapter 13:9b “They will call on My name, And I will answer them, I will say, This is My people, And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” Chapter 14 is a victorious chapter about the coming of Jesus. When Jesus comes back the Second time, he will be coming as a victorious warrior, who will save His people. 14:9 says “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be- The Lord is one, And His name one.” I may not understand everything that Zechariah is saying but I know the most important thing is that God loves us, one day Jesus will come back as our Messiah, and Savior and will set up the Kingdom of God, and God will dwell with us in Zion. As Zechariah’s name proclaims, “the Lord has remembered”; He has remembered His promise to his children and the promise will be fulfilled.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Zechariah 8-14
Tomorrow we begin the exciting book of Esther (chapters 1-5) as we continue on our
Welcome to the second half of Daniel, where if you thought it was a strange book before, now you’ve been proven correct. Long gone are the days of easily followable narratives. We’ve had warm-up sessions in parts of earlier chapters, but now it seems that Daniel has gone full apocalyptic on us.
When we think about the word apocalypse, usually we think of the end of the world and fire and brimstone, because that is the cultural meaning it has taken on. But biblically speaking, an apocalypse is an unveiling or revealing of something. And yes, sometimes that can mean something dramatic is being revealed about the end of the world as we know it. But that is not the default mode of an apocalypse. An apocalypse, probably more often than not, sheds light on what is happening now (as in, then, for the original writers and audience) and what is immediately on the horizon, often with the purpose of encouraging the people of God to hang on. Today we can look at an ancient, yet inspired apocalypse and find patterns and truths that mean just as much (and more) as they did so long ago.
Think back to Daniel chapter two. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a statue with its different parts representing a succession of four kingdoms, and then a fifth, everlasting kingdom. This was an apocalypse, revealing to Nebuchadnezzar how temporary his kingdom is and how sovereign God is. But this also was a way of revealing to Daniel the encouraging truth that restoration for the people of God was something in the works.
Daniel’s dream in chapter seven presents the same pattern with very different imagery, and expands on it with some new information. Instead of different parts of a statue, we have four devouring beasts coming out of the sea. The first is a lion-eagle type thing, the second is a bear, the third is a leopard-bird thing, and the fourth is maybe something like an elephant with ten horns. Coming out of it is another little horn that is arrogant. These beasts are four kingdoms, and I’ll again run with them representing Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece (probably more the Seleucid kingdom in this case).
I need to take a pause and tell you that I recognize that there are several different ways to make sense of the book of Daniel. It is not an easy book, and there are a lot of things left open to interpretation (which I would argue is by design). I can barely begin to understand the nuances. But I can at least share the path I’m taking through it, and hope that it is useful to you somehow, even though I am sure it is not entirely correct.
Daniel’s dream jumps from the beasts to a court scene, or divine council, with the very fiery and white-haired Ancient One, or Ancient of Days (God) presiding over the court. The fourth beast is judged and put to death, while the other three beasts have to transfer their dominion, but are allowed to live.
To what or whom is this dominion transferred? Now approaching God on the clouds of heaven is a humanlike figure, or one “like a son of man.” Verse 14 tells us, “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”
Who is the humanlike figure? There are a couple options. One option is that the humanlike figure is an angel who is a heavenly representative of Israel. Option two is similar, where it would be a literary stand-in kind of figure in the vision that symbolizes the collective Israel. Either way, it is a representation of Israel approaching Judge God, being vindicated, and receiving dominion.
There is a very tempting and obvious third option, which is to identify the humanlike figure with the Messiah. Jesus’s most used title for himself is the son of man, and he makes references to the son of man coming on the clouds. There is certainly a connection to be made here, but direction is important. In Daniel 7, I don’t believe there is any intention of referring forward to a messianic figure. However, when Jesus comes on the scene, he does well to call back the symbolism in Daniel 7 to say something significant about himself: He embodies and represents Israel before God. As an aside, “son of man” means “human.” Jesus unabashedly embraces his full humanity every time he utters the phrase. As another aside, when Jesus talks about the son of man coming on the clouds, we should import Daniel 7 context and imagery as a starting point for understanding what he is talking about, because that seems to be what he is asking us to do.
Daniel is very concerned about this fourth beast that seems to be much worse than the other beasts, and what is going on with the ten horns (Now 11 though. This one goes to 11). This fourth beast probably symbolizes the hellenistic kingdom of Alexander the Great. And the 11th (little) horn probably symbolizes Antiochus IV Epihanes, one of the hellenistic kings of the Seleucid dynasty (from 175 to 164 BC), who intensely persecuted the Jews. Since the book of Daniel was likely not in its final form until the first half of the 2nd century BC, the persecution from Antiochus was either on the horizon or already a very serious reality being wrestled with.
This little horn tries to mess with the sacred seasons (Antiochus actually prohibited observing Sabbath and some feasts), persecutes, and sets himself up as sovereign for a period of time (usually interpreted as 3½ years). But after the time is up, his dominion is handed over to the people of God.
Again I want to suggest that the specifics are less important than the pattern. We can look at history and find the fulfillment of passages like these. But the bigger pattern is that earthly kings and kingdoms come and go. Some of them are decent, and some of them are truly terrible, but none of them are God. So we look forward to when dominion is in the right place, to a truly good kingdom that is eternal, with God as its king. Until then, we know there can be trouble, and we hang on.
Chapter 8 expands on chapter 7 by presenting Daniel’s vision of a ram and a goat. The ram is powerful and has two horns. A goat with a horn between its eyes shows up and takes out the ram. But eventually the goat loses the horn and 4 more replace it. Out of one of these horns comes a little horn that becomes very powerful and arrogant. He interferes with the sacrificial system and wreaks general havoc and headache. A couple of angels speak among themselves and ask how long this will go on. A prediction of 2,300 evenings and mornings is given, which could be meant to be 2,300 days or 1,150 days. If it is the latter, that roughly approximates a 3½ year period, which will come up again.
Luckily, Gabriel is able to help us with some of this. He identifies the ram’s horns as the kings of Media and Persia. The goat is Greece, with the first horn being its first king. And the four horns are four kingdoms that rise up to take over when the first king is gone. Then another very powerful and troublesome king comes after them. But Gabriel assures Daniel, “he shall be broken, and not by human hands.”
To fill in a couple more blanks, it seems reasonable to say the goat’s horn is Alexander the Great, who rapidly defeated the Persian empire. After he is broken (his sudden death in 323 BC), his kingdom is divided between his generals (the Diadochi). The four horns refer to the four most important of these kingdoms. Our beloved friend Antiochus comes out of one of these.
Antiochus in a way declares war on Judaism, and by extension, on God. He ushers in the “Antiochene Crisis” in 167 BC in response to a civil war in Jerusalem. With an iron fist, he brings massacres, enslavement, military presence, a rededication of the temple to Zeus Olympios, a replacement of normal sacrifices with pagan sacrifices, and destruction of copies of the Torah. This defiling of the temple and sacrificial system is likely referred to by the “transgression that makes desolate.” Antiochus is basically making worship of the true God illegal if not impossible.
The tyrannical little horn is allowed to do his thing for a time, but God will be the one to put an end to him. Again we have a pattern where an arrogant king sets himself up as God, is allowed to live in that delusion for a time, but is eventually made low by God. And hope waits for the deliverance and restoration that follows.
Chapter 9 reminds us that Daniel has been waiting for this restoration. He recalls that the prophet Jeremiah said that the exile would last for 70 years. This launches him into a prayer of repentance on behalf of his people. Israel had screwed up so badly and put themselves into this situation, but Daniel, as far as we can tell, doesn’t have much of anything to apologize for. Yet, he groups himself in with Israel and confesses their collective sin. Daniel cries out to God to restore the temple, the people, and Jerusalem, not for their own sake, but for God’s. Because now God’s people, who carry his name, have become a laughingstock.
But Gabriel now adds another layer of interpretation on Jeremiah, and informs Daniel that it will take 70 weeks for everything to be restored to some kind of normal for Jerusalem and the people of God. What do we make of this? Usually it is taken to mean 70 weeks of years, so 70 times 7, or 490. But 490 years from when? Does it start from when they went into exile, or from when Daniel had the conversation with Gabriel, or from when Jeremiah first spoke the prophecy, or from some other point? And do the biblical authors really intend these numbers to be used as precise timetables? Whichever way it is, 490 years is much longer than 70, and this has to come as devastating news to Daniel, who by now has waited most of his life for the exile to end and for things to be put right again.
Gabriel informs us that these 70 weeks are divided into periods of 7 + 62 + 1. The first 7 weeks is 49 years, or in biblical tradition, a Jubilee, when slaves are set free and debts are forgiven (see Lev 25). As it turns out, that is the amount of time from the start of the exile until their return after Cyrus’s decree. The anointed prince after the 7 weeks could be a reference to the high priest Joshua, or possibly Cyrus. During the 62 weeks, Jerusalem is being rebuilt into a real city again. After the 62 weeks there is an anointed one who is cut off, which is probably a reference to the murdered high priest, Onias III. Then it mentions a prince to come who destroys the city and temple. This “prince” is likely Antiochus, assaulting the city through his official, Apollonius. And in the last week, we have some kind of agreement between Antiochus and the hellenizing Jews, followed by his ban on worship, and replacement of YHWH worship with pagan worship, basically as punishment for a rebellion. To get more backstory on this line of interpretation, you can look at the Jewish writings of 1 and 2 Maccabees. Whatever interpretation you take, and whoever this prince is, his end will come at the end of these 70 weeks.
If your head is spinning, join the club. Part of the fun of reading Daniel is that we’re continually invited to interpret. Don’t get too lost on the details and timelines. It has been helpful for me to zoom out and try to catch the big picture themes and patterns.
We’re not immune to trouble. Regrettably, sometimes the people who have been placed in authority over us don’t have our best interests in mind. This can make a huge mess of things for a while, but God is always on the move to restore his people, even if it takes 7 times longer than we had hoped.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 7-9
Tomorrow we finish the book of Daniel (chapters 10-12) as we continue on our
12 Even now— this is the Lord’s declaration— turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13 Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster. Joel 2:12-13 (HCSB)
Today we’re going to read the book of Joel (hey, that’s my name!). It is one of the shortest books in the Old Testament, so I’ll keep my thoughts on it brief. It was written as a wake up call to God’s people. As you’ve been reading through the Prophets, it should have been quite apparent that God wasn’t the happiest about the actions of His people. That’s why we have this particular section of scripture; if Israel hadn’t messed up so bad, God wouldn’t have had to tell them so. Joel doesn’t say much different than the other Prophets; he is just rehashing the same message because apparently, Israel still hasn’t learned its lesson. Here’s the condensed version of the message: you’ve sinned and made God angry, but He loves you and wants you to live, so turn away from your wickedness.
This message, which was proclaimed to the Jews first, is just as relevant today for us as it was then for them. Only today we have the added part: God loved you so much He sent His only begotten son so you can live eternally (John 3:16). We still live in nations full of wickedness, we still raise idols to a status reserved only for Yahweh, we still do wrong when we know what’s right, and we still let the ungodly have undue influence over us. The words spoken through the Prophets to the people of Israel still hold value for us, and I hope we will do a better job heeding them than the original recipients.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through Joel and the last chapters of Ezekiel with me this week.
– Joel Fletcher
Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Joel 1-3
Tomorrow we will begin the book of Daniel (chapters 1-3) as we continue seeking God on our
Why is it that older churches and cathedrals seem to have an aura about them that is missing from newer Christian constructions? There is a special reverence that is shown to these historical places of worship, but why? They appear to be more “holy” than modern church structures–are they really or is it just perception?
In our reading today, we get more details about the temple complex being shown to Ezekiel. As I mentioned yesterday, one intention for the prophet in giving specifications to all of Israel was so they could imagine what it would be like. Another reason, which flows from first is to draw attention to God’s holiness and, in turn, Israel’s sinfulness. But why would imagining the temple lead to recognizing sin? This question and the ones in the above paragraph are tied together.
The idea of holiness in the Bible is connected with being different, set apart, or sacred. The God of the Bible is called holy; He is without sin, He is all powerful, He is worthy of worship and adoration. Yahweh is distinct from His creation. Though humans are made in His image, they have sins which separate them from God, showing Him to be holy and people common. When humans encounter God’s holiness, it leaves them in awe of His majesty and with awareness of their own sinfulness (see Isaiah 6). When you see a dirty object–even one you think is clean–held up to something that is flawless, every little blemish is revealed. That is what happens when humans meet God.
When we see older churches or cathedrals, we are looking at something different, uncommon, a building designed to be set apart from other constructions. Older places of worship are usually taller, more distinctive, and, dare I say, were built by people more reverent than us. They have brilliant stained glass, magnificent architecture, and invoke a deep sense of beauty. Modern churches, by contrast, aren’t much taller than most middle-class housing and, in most cities, are located every few blocks. They look dull in comparison, with nothing extraordinary to offer. Older churches appear more holy because they stand out more, while modern ones seem all too common.
Older churches and cathedrals were built as the place where humans go to encounter God, much like Jews viewed the temple. Many modern Christians understand they don’t have go to a building to worship God, but for most of Christian history the church building has been the place where followers of Christ have gathered to worship their creator, which is why those older churches were so grand. They wanted the building to reflect the holiness of the God they worshiped. God’s holiness causes people to recognize their own sinfulness. It’s no wonder that the dulling down of Christian architecture has mirrored a more laissez-faire attitude towards sin.
What should we do then? Should we go back to designing and building grand places of worship?
No. When Jesus left the curtain torn, the separation between the holy God and sinful humanity was broken. This means striving after good works and the sacrificing of rams and bulls is not the way to achieve holiness. Instead, we put our faith (believe) in the one responsible for ripping the veil in half and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Because of the righteousness of the Messiah, we can be holy and the spirit of God can dwell in us, as we live as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16).
God’s holiness still causes us to recognize our own sin, but we don’t have to go to a grand building to see it. We encounter it through scripture, reading about God Himself or His son who reveals so much about Him. We see it in nature, looking through binoculars, telescopes, or with the naked eye. We see it when the Church (the people, not the building) acts as it was intended to. Thankfully God’s holiness doesn’t just reveal our sinfulness, but His love for us and willingness to forgive those who ask for it. What a holy, loving, and awesome God we serve!
– Joel Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 42-43
Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 44-45 as we continue on our
Whenever we learn a pastor is going to be reading from one of the Prophets it usually means we’re going to hear something about Jesus or how a prophecy may be fulfilled soon (read: in our lifetime). Now, neither of these is a bad reason to look at the words God spoke through these chosen messengers, but I think there are other reasons we should read them and a mindset we should have when we do that more aligns with why they were written. Our reading for today will be a case in point.
In Ezekiel 38-39, we hear about Gog, a military leader, and Magog, the home of said leader. This guy Gog is someone who wants to go to blows with the people of God. And God will let it (or make it) happen, not because He doesn’t care about His people, but the opposite. God is going to send Gog to destroy Israel, but the tough guy and all who join him will meet their doom instead. Yahweh is going to reveal Himself to the world so that they know He really is God and He really does defend His people and care for them. Though they may be weak and outnumbered, Israel has the God of Angel Armies on their side and He will not be denied victory. The nations will see what happens to Gog and know it was God who put an end to him and his allies.
What Bible teachers and preachers usually do when expositing from these two chapters in Ezekiel, is to try to identify what current world nations are represented by the names mentioned in the text (e.g. Gog) and when these events will take place. This is an acceptable goal when trying to dig into the meaning of this passage and trying to see how it relates to other prophecies, especially if we think it might be fulfilled in our own lifetime. But I think the first thing we need to do (generally) when reading the Bible is try to understand what the purpose of the message was in the first place and then to see what it means for us today. We should have our minds be in a state where we’re hearing as the original intended audience heard it, then bring it to our own context and see how it fits there. Most of the Bible was written for Jewish people in an ancient Jewish context. We have to appreciate that and respond accordingly. One caveat is that just because a speaker doesn’t mention how a passage was heard in its original context doesn’t mean they didn’t think about it, it could be they didn’t have time to bring it up in their lesson/message. That being said, we should seek to regularly look at the original audience/context whenever we do our own study of the Bible.
Ezekiel 38-39 was written down by a Jew in exile for the Jews in exile. People who had a covenant with Yahweh but had repeatedly broken it. They had a relationship with the One True God but continued to cheat on Him with other nations and their false gods. They were being punished for their idolatry through exile. Babylon had conquered the Promised Land and they no longer could claim it as their home. God had revealed previously that He would restore Jewish people back to their home. He does again in this passage and says they will be living securely, in peace when Gog makes his move and is roundly defeated by Israel’s defender and the world is shown that Yahweh is the Holy One is Israel. This undoubtedly would have caused joy to the Jews who heard it, trust from those who believed it, and hope to the ones who thought about the future.
Bringing it to our own context, we may not be exiled from our native land, but we are awaiting a country of our own (Hebrews 11:14). We may not have worshiped false gods like Baal and Asherah, but perhaps we have elevated things or people to a place only reserved for God. We may not be a part of the Old Covenant which brought God to the defense of His rebellious people, but we are a part of the New Covenant which brought Jesus to take on the sins of rebellious people. How much more joy, trust, and hope should we have in Yahweh because of the New Covenant?
Ezekiel 33 and 34 cover leadership, how Ezekiel cannot be an effective leader and how God will one day lead Israel directly and be their shepherd.
30 “As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ 31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” (Ezekiel 33:30-32 NIV)
Ezekiel is a leader over God’s people, but he cannot lead effectively if they will not listen to him. Ezekiel has been proclaiming God’s word to the people for a few years now and telling them of the judgements of God and the consequences of their actions, and they have been collectively taking his messages about as seriously as you would a street performer’s. I think that a lot of people go to church today because they want to hear nice things from the pastor and they enjoy how energetic and uplifting the speaker can be, but unless you are being pushed to change your ways and grow closer to God and step outside of your comfort zone, then you might be like the Israelites here, with the word of God going in one ear and out the other. Hearing the word is not enough, you have to listen and change.
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.
15 I myself will tend my sheep and have 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.” (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-16 NIV)
I think that this looks forward to two different times. First it looks to the time after the death of Jesus when the sins of mankind can be covered by Jesus’ blood and man can go directly to God, without the need for an earthly priest and a temple and daily sacrifices. I think that Jesus was even alluding to this chapter when he told the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to find the one, basically telling the Israelites that God was ready to begin this new type of relationship with them that he had told them about during the time of Ezekiel.
I think that this verse also looks forward to the Kingdom of God when he will reign as the perfect shepherd over all those who have believed. At the time of Ezekiel this was very far away, and Jesus had not begun his ministry, and the Church was not yet established, but God still had a plan.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Thanks for joining us this week as we have been going through Ezekiel. It is not a book that we know particularly well and we are glad that we have had this time to study it.