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Current study: Spiritual Warfare

08 September 2012

Week 36 Review

September 2 Ezekiel 17-20
September 3 Ezekiel 21-24
September 4 Ezekiel 25-28
September 5 Ezekiel 29-32
September 6 Ezekiel 33-36
September 7 Ezekiel 37-40

Ezekiel can be a difficult book to read! It’s sometime hard to tell when he is writing about his time, speaking prophetically, or both.

This week’s them is God is in control.

Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23  On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”  Ezek 17:22-24 (ESV)

Our holy, just and righteous God tells us how we are to live:

“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right— 6 if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, 7  does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 8  does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, 9  walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.  Ezek 18:5-9 (ESV)

We can’t possibly live up to God’s standards, and that’s where sacrifices came into play before Jesus. Today, we have Jesus’ once for all sacrifice to remove our sins. When we look at that list, it’s obvious that most of us, writer included, don’t even come close to God’s standard. We want the glitter of the world instead of the magnificence of God. We worship – but not with our whole heart, soul and mind. We have a lot to learn from the dire warnings Ezekiel gave to the Jews!

Ezekiel gives us a course on personal responsibility in chapters 18-21. The Jews were blaming their ancestors for the judgments they were suffering. Ezekiel tells us that God judges me for my sin – I am not responsible for my ancestor’s (or anyone else’s) sins unless I continue in those sinful ways myself. In addition, the Jewish leaders were held responsible for their foolish decisions (chapter 19), and Ezekiel turned his focus to the nation’s irresponsibility in chapter 20.

Because God is just and faithful, He had no alternative to punish His people (chapter 21). Ezekiel reminded the people, and us today, that God doesn’t treat us unfairly. He treats us as we deserve.

Stop and think about “unfair” for a moment. If you are caught speeding, for example, most times you will say that the police officer is “mean” or “unfair”. But is that really true? Isn’t “unfair” just another way of shifting responsibility from you to the police officer? Doesn’t “unfair” really mean “things aren’t going my way”?

We all go through chastisement from God. It’s important to learn from our mistakes. Why are we being punished by God? What do we need to learn?

One interesting area of Ezekiel’s message was to the leaders who came to “inquire of the Lord” in chapter 20. Ezekiel knew that their hearts weren’t right and they had no right to ask God about anything.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and go whoring after their detestable things? 31 When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you. 32  “What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.’ Ezek 20:30-32 (ESV)

God spoke very sternly. He was adamant that He would not instruct the elders because of their rampant disobedience.  It’s the same today. God won’t listen to us if our heart is not ready to submit. We need to approach God with a contrite heart and a broken spirit. After all, not only is He our creator and sustainer, we are children going to our Father for help. Will an earthly parent listen to a smart-mouthing, unrepentant child, or will a sincere “I’m sorry” change the paradigm?

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. 16  For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made. 17 Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry, but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart. 18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, 19  creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal him. Isaiah 57:15-19 (ESV)

We see a detailed list of God’s upcoming judgments to the nations. Ammon, Moab were the sons from Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughters (Genesis 19:29-38). Edom, which means “red”,  is another name for Esau. These nations, blood relatives to the Jews, refused to stand in support of one another, and that’s a part of the reason that God judged them.

The other nations listed in Ezekiel 25-26 were judged because of their sins of pride, hatred, and revenge. These are the same sins that affect the nations (and individuals) today. It’s easy for us to be arrogant, yet call it patriotism. It’s easy to hate another nation and call it national zeal. It’s easy to want to seek revenge and call it justice.

(I will happily do a study on the prophetic aspects of Ezekiel if anyone is interested. Doing so in this blog would make for an unnaturally long, and most likely unread post).

In chapter 33, we are reminded that Ezekiel is called as a watchman. We see themes of national sin once again. Here, however, it seems that at least some of the people were feeling the pain of their sins. Unfortunately, like today, we see only remorse and not repentance. When we are caught, we can have one of three basic emotions:

Regret – ahhhhhh, I got caught! It’s an act of the mind.
Remorse – both the heart and the mind. We are disgusted with our action and feel the pangs of regret, but we’re not going to change anything – we just won’t get caught again.

Repentance – includes the mind, heart and the will. We change our mind and agree with God that our actions are wrong. We are disgusted or upset because of what we’ve done. We deliberately change our behavior and turn to God for mercy.

Even Jesus’ disciples responded to their sins in different ways. Peter, after denying Christ, repented and asked for forgiveness. Judas, however, didn’t repent and only felt remorseful. He hung himself.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! 2 Cor 7:10-11 (ESV)

In Ezekiel’s time, the elders once again said that God wasn’t being fair! When we call God unfair, we show that we’re not truly repentant. If we repent, we don’t argue with God’s Word. We’re not much different than those elders. In what areas have you seen an instruction in God’s Word, then justified not following it with “it was a cultural thing” or “he didn’t mean it for our time”? I know there are a few areas of the Bible I’d prefer to ignore, and a few, unfortunately, that I do manage to avoid. How about you?

Ezekiel doesn’t just give his people bad news. In chapter 36-37, he talks about the restoration of the people and the land. These promises were for Ezekiel’s contemporaries, looking forward to the return from Babylonian captivity as well as for every other believer, looking forward to the new temple and God’s presence at the end of the age. Before that can happen (in the “now” or in the “it will be”), God must transform His people – including you and me. These words, however, were specifically aimed at His people, the Jews.

God will cleanse them from their sin. It’s an inward transformation (36:25, 29; 37:23).  

God will give them a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26; Deuteronomy 5:29; Jeremiah 24:7).

God will give them the Holy Spirit – the member of the Trinity who accomplishes the miracles of regeneration (Ezekiel 36:27).

God will once again claim them as His people (Ezekiel 36:28). No more rebellion!

God will allow the land to flourish (Ezekiel 36:29-30, 33-35). He will fulfill the terms of the covenant He made with Israel before they entered Canaan because the people will no longer be in rebellion (Leviticus 26:1-13; Deuteronomy 28:1-14).

The people will abhor their sins (Ezekiel 36:31-32). Paul calls us to do the same thing. This is evidence that the Spirit is at work in a believer’s life.

Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Romans 12:9

God will allow the people to fellowship with Him again (Ezekiel 36:37).

God will allow the people to multiply (Ezekiel 36:37-38).

Through the fulfillment of all these promises, God will be glorified.

Ezekiel also gave his last action sermon in chapter 37. He took two sticks, representing the divided Jewish nation. Through divine intervention, the two sticks became one. It seemed like an impossibility, but with God all things are possible!

Likewise, God desires His people to live in unity today.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!  Psalms 133:1 (ESV)

Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that they needed to strive for unity, and he exhorted the Ephesians to keep the spirit of unity through the bond of peace.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 1 Cor 1:10 (ESV)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Eph 4:1-3 (ESV)

Jesus’ desire was for His people to live in unity, and it’s one of the last things He prayed for before His death.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21  that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:20-23 (ESV)

This week we’ve learned that God is in control of every situation – past, present, and future. We know that the only way this could be true is if He planned the world from before its foundation. We are reminded, too, that God desires us to live in unity and peace.

Have you internalized the promise that God knows what He’s doing? What areas in your life are you still clinging to? Where do you need to give God control?

And do you try to live in peace with everyone? Does reading Jesus’ prayer remind you that your actions are important and that people watch us to see if we live in a Christlike manner? When you witness dissention in your home or in the church, do you try to solve the problem, or do you detail it in a gossip report (which may be called a “prayer request”)? Please don’t misunderstand – prayer requests are vital to the family of God. We need to watch what we say when we ask for prayer so that our requests are truly requests and not a way to spread rumors or fuel the fires of dissention. Paul had that problem with the church at Corinth (the 1 Corinthians reference above). It’s human nature! But we need to strive for a Christ-like nature… so when you offer prayer requests, please make sure that your motives are pure J

We read a tiny bit about the new temple at the end of this week. I will include chapter 40 in next week’s review as the temple is discussed for several more chapters.

May God richly bless you this week. Keep up the Bible reading. We’re more than halfway through! As always, if you have prayer requests, email me or leave me a comment. If you’ve seen something in the text that you would like to highlight, leave a comment. We can all learn from one another. See you soon.

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