A Fugitive Will Come…

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners.”  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.  Then the people asked me, “Won’t you tell us what these things have to do with us? Why are you acting like this?”  So I said to them, “The word of the Lord came to me: Say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. And you will do as I have done. You will not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners. You will keep your turbans on your heads and your sandals on your feet. You will not mourn or weep but will waste away because of your sins and groan among yourselves. Ezekiel will be a sign to you; you will do just as he has done. When this happens, you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord .’  “And you, son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes, their heart’s desire, and their sons and daughters as well— on that day a fugitive will come to tell you the news. At that time your mouth will be opened; you will speak with him and will no longer be silent. So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord .” – Ezekiel 24:15‭-‬27

God is sharing a personal prophecy with Ezekiel in this passage. He is predicting the death of a very important to person, his wife – “the delight of your eyes”. This is likely to be a rough bit of water and God wants Ezekiel to be ready. The water reference is to tears, samples of our souls, as we will see this is something God directs Ezekiel not to shed.

This must have been a hard prophecy to hear for Ezekiel – on par with some of the things Job went through as he faced wave upon wave of calamities in his life. God also seems to require Ezekiel  to “Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead”. So not only is he going to lose his wife, but he cannot even be sad about it. This teaching is right up there with some of Jesus’ teachings in the sermon on the mount in terms of level of difficulty, both to understand and to do.

It sounds like this passage is predicting the “death” of something very dear to the people of Israel, presumably the temple. Why would God remove Ezekiel’s wife and the temple?  I think the answer lies near the middle of the passage, when God directs Ezekiel to tell the people, “I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The issue, it seems, is the posture and perspective of the people. God wants to be the object of the people’s affection and the delight of their eyes before all else, even the temple.

The passage ends with an interesting riffle. On the very day that God is to take away their “stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes, their heart’s desire, and their sons and daughters as well” God sends a “fugitive”. The fugitive will restore Ezekiel’s voice and share “news” with him. It may be a stretch, but it seems that this part of the passage contains a reflection of Him. The coming “Fugitive” sounds a lot like a young man from Galilee that was a fugitive almost from birth (Matthew 2:13). This fugitive will share news, good news?

The take home message for me in this passage is that God wants to be the object of our affection, the delight of our eyes, and the stronghold in which we take pride. He has wanted that from the  beginning and He wants the same from us today.

Prayer: God help me to place you first in my life, and make you the delight of my eyes, and the object of my affection. 

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An Encrusted Pot.

Scale-in-DrainIn the ninth year, in the tenth month on the tenth day, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, record this date, this very date, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day. Tell this rebellious people a parable and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “ ‘Put on the cooking pot; put it on and pour water into it.  Put into it the pieces of meat, all the choice pieces—the leg and the shoulder. Fill it with the best of these bones;  take the pick of the flock. Pile wood beneath it for the bones; bring it to a boil and cook the bones in it.  “ ‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “ ‘Woe to the city of bloodshed, to the pot now encrusted, whose deposit will not go away! Take the meat out piece by piece in whatever order it comes.  “ ‘For the blood she shed is in her midst: She poured it on the bare rock; she did not pour it on the ground, where the dust would cover it.  To stir up wrath and take revenge I put her blood on the bare rock, so that it would not be covered. – Ezekiel 24:1‭-‬8

This passage continues the harsh rebuke that God has asked Ezekiel to share with Israel.  This time it comes in the form of a parable about cooking meat in an encrusted pot.
“A deposit that will not go away”, what an interesting turn of phrase, especially as a water scientist and chemist.

The technical term for this type of deposit is “scale”, and it is the bane of many a homeowner and water plant operator. It occurs when water passing through pipes, or cooked in pots, experiences changes in water chemistry or temperature which causes ions in the water to combine to form mineral precipitates (scale). Water with abundant ions which results in mineral deposits, is often referred to as hard water.

So to bring this back to the passage and what God is trying to communicate here – He is saying that the people of Israel are like an “encrusted pot”.  They have become ineffective at the the purpose for which they were designed.  Not only are they ineffective, but they seem to be using the gifts, skills, and resources (the meat in the pot) for something other than what God intended for them. Specifically, shedding blood and fighting battles that were not theirs to fight.

This passage is convicting on many levels.  In what ways am I encrusted and ineffective at what God has planned for me?  Am I using my gifts, resources, and skills to accomplish what God needs me to do or what I want to do?  Am I fighting battles that I should allow God to fight?  All very good questions to ask, although I am not sure I am ready to answer some of them.

Prayer: God help me to see ways that I have become encrusted and ineffective at accomplishing your plans.

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A Lion Tearing Prey

Again the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to the land, ‘You are a land that has not been cleansed or rained on in the day of wrath.’ There is a conspiracy of her princes within her like a roaring lion tearing its prey; they devour people, take treasures and precious things and make many widows within her. Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain. Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says’—when the Lord has not spoken. The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice. “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord .” – Ezekiel 22:23‭-‬31

Ezekiel is once again called upon in this passage to share a less than flattering word picture of the nation of Israel.  The nation of Israel, and its leaders, are compared to “a lion tearing its prey”.  Now there were probably those within the community that took this as a complement and an apt description of the way they were used to doing business. The people of Israel are not comfortable with their role as sheep being led by a Shepard – they would prefer to be lions in control of their own destiny.  There are many modern day God-seekers who have a similar problem – myself included at times.  Our culture likes winners and those who come across much more like lions than lambs.

The water comes into this passage when God describes the nation as “You are a land that has not been cleansed or rained on in the day of wrath.”  This seems to be saying something a little confusing.  The people are not treating God with respect yet He is staying His wrath.  Why?  Why not blast them and be done with it?  I suspect it the same reason we would not even imagine visiting wrath on our own children when they are doing something wrong.  There is a mixture of love and maybe even a sense of responsibility for the child’s actions.  How old does a child have to be before they can be considered the master of their own decisions?  How many times does a nation have to mess up to before it grabs a clue and begins to make better choices? It is a good thing that God is patient and has decided to extend His arm and stay His wrath for us rebellious sheep.

The passage suggests that even those who have been given the task of leading the nation spiritually, the priests, are lost in the weeds of greed and idolatry, “Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean”  This sounds eerily like the times in which we are living now. It seems sometimes that the idea of things being holy or set apart has “gone out of style” and it is very difficult to distinguish the clean from the unclean, or the bad from the good.  All seems to be mixed together into a grey goo of confusion where no one is able to discuss the objective good or bad of almost any choices we make.

The earthly leaders are not faithfully following God any better than the religious leaders, and are using their power, and view from the top, to do evil rather than good.  There is a sense that the leaders are taking advantage of those less fortunate than themselves.  They are being “unjust” and acting like wolves rather than shepherds. They are even putting words in God’s mouth, “this is what the Sovereign Lord says’—when the Lord has not spoken”.  This happens with modern day God followers too when they allow our worship and relationship with God to become encrusted with damaging traditions and dogma.

In the end God looses his patience and says that He will rain down his wrath on them because He has not found anyone to “stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land”. Fortunately for all of us who are still messing up like those in the passage God has found someone to “stand in the gap” for us, Jesus.

Prayer: God thank you for extending Your arm to save us even as we continue to mess up and confuse bad for good.

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Involuntary Reflexes

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel and say to her: ‘This is what the Lord says: I am against you. I will draw my sword from its sheath and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked. Because I am going to cut off the righteous and the wicked, my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north. Then all people will know that I the Lord have drawn my sword from its sheath; it will not return again.’ “Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.” The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Lord says: ‘A sword, a sword, sharpened and polished— sharpened for the slaughter, polished to flash like lightning! ‘Shall we rejoice in the scepter of my royal son? The sword despises every such stick.  – Ezekiel 21:1-10

This passage returns to the interesting, and somewhat irreverent, word picture of the legs of the people of Israel being wet with urine.  This is an allusion to the people of Israel being really afraid, so much so that they wet themselves.  This language was used previously in Ezekiel 7:14-22. God is not pulling any punches here He is making it clear that this exile thing is going to be hard and scary.

I cannot remember a time when I have wet myself due to being afraid.  I am not saying it has never happened, I just don’t remember any specific occasions when it happened. It implies a certain loss of control over something that we typically think is under control. It that sense it is an interesting choice for a word picture. The Israelites have in many ways been on “auto-pilot”, expecting God to allow them to wander into all sorts of idolatry and distraction.  They have allowed their relationship with God to become “involuntary”.  The exile will be a wake-up call of sorts and a testing of their wills.

God wants volunteers that are willing to walk with Him because we choose to do so not because we are compelled to do so by fear or involuntary reflexes.  He wants us to be in a constant state disequilibrium with this world so that we seek Him first. He wants the opposite of “involuntary” reflexes. He wants all of our choices to be intentional and consciously committed to Him.

I was Netflix surfing the other day and happened upon the movie “Young Frankenstein”.  I like this movie the other day. This movie has many interesting and morally questionable scenes, but bear with me here on this rabbit trail. This passage and the idea of voluntary and involuntary reflexes reminded of the scene near the beginning of the movie when Gene Wilder is giving a lecture the help of a “volunteer”. It does not end well for the volunteer or Gene Wilder’s character.

The subject in the movie has voluntary reflexes that are based on his emotions and feelings, and involuntary reflexes that are designed to protect his body from harm and keep it functioning properly. It seems the Israelites are making poor choices with their voluntary “reflexes” and they are bearing bad fruit. Their actions and habits are building patterns of “involuntary reflexes” toward God that are not helping them to grow a deeper relationship with Him. They are “wetting themselves with fear” in this passage, an involuntary reflex, because they have chosen fear over faith in the God who has made it clear that He wants to carry them like a son or daughter. They have become accustomed to choosing fear and turning to idols and false gods to obtain comfort rather than God.

The hidden well in this passage for me is the idea that our relationship with God can be subject to the spiritual equivalent of voluntary and involuntary reflexes.  Some things we choose to do to make our relationship with God stronger. The spiritual disciplines like prayer, reflection on  God’s words, and fasting improve our “involuntary” spiritual reflexes and provide protection for our souls. The interesting thing about our spiritual reflexes is that even our “involuntary” spiritual reflexes are born out of our experiences walking with God. Our choices determine the trajectory of our “involuntary” spiritual reflexes.

Prayer: God help us to choose to walk with you so that we develop involuntary spiritual reflexes that lead us toward You.

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A Ruler’s Scepter

‘Your mother was like a vine in your vineyard  planted by the water; it was fruitful and full of branches because of abundant water.   Its branches were strong, fit for a ruler’s scepter. It towered high above the thick foliage, conspicuous for its height and for its many branches.   But it was uprooted in fury and thrown to the ground. The east wind made it shrivel, it was stripped of its fruit; its strong branches withered and fire consumed them.   Now it is planted in the desert, in a dry and thirsty land.   Fire spread from one of its main branches and consumed its fruit. No strong branch is left on it fit for a ruler’s scepter.’ “This is a lament and is to be used as a lament.” – Ezekiel 19:10-14 NIV

I have been off the water for an extended period of time.  No really good reason, I just allowed life to overtake my commitment to walk daily “on the water”.  I, like my namesake, became too focused on the waves around me and forgot to simply enjoy the journey and all that it has been providing me.  As I have reflected on my time off the water I think the thing that I missed the most was the “hidden wells” that God regularly provides along the way. There is a dynamic in this that I am not sure I fully understand, but I am back on the water today and I am going to try my best to get back into the habit of regular readings and reflection.

Today’s passage seems to be linked to the last passage about about “transplants“. The intervening passages have contained some really interesting discussion about repentance that would fit quite well in the new testament.  For example, the last chapter (chapter 18) ends with “Repent and live!”  The people of Israel were getting this message long before Jesus came to share the same message.

This verse begins by comparing the Israel of the past as like a vine planted by the water.  I was bearing fruit, because of the abundant water it was getting.  The passage then provides an allegorical reference to this vine being uprooted, presumably the exile phase. This was largely because the Israel had begun to disconnect themselves from God and they were bearing bad fruit.

The reference to a ruler’s scepter is an interesting detail.  Since ruler’s scepters are not “a thing” these days I did a little investigation into what these object meant for this time and people. It seems that it is generally accepted that the ruler’s scepter is a symbol of authority to rule.  So if a nation or person possesses this scepter they have been given authority to rule by whomever bestowed the scepter upon them.  The implication here is that God bestowed on the people of Israel the right to rule (they possessed the scepter) as a result of their connection to God and His provision of water to make them a strong and worthy vine, fit to be used as a ruler’s scepter.

The implication here is that Israel has become unfit to serve this role, and the uprooting (exile) is a necessary step in the future of Israel.  There is “No strong branch is left on it fit for a ruler’s scepter.”  This sounds like God is saying there is no one fit to lead.  The result is exile and being “planted in the desert”.  Now one could view this as a retribution by God, but one could also view it as a necessary outcome of the choices the rulers of Israel had been making.

The take-home message from this passage for me is that if we are to lead we must be continually connected to our source of water so that we can be worthy “scepter” material when the time comes for us to lead.  This a bit of a personal rebuke for me as I have not been well connected to the spring for several months.  The reassuring message that was revealed through Jesus is that no matter how many times we choose to be “free of God“, God still chooses us.

Prayer: God thank you for meeting us where we are not matter who many times we choose to disconnect ourselves from your Living Water.

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Transplants

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set forth an allegory and tell it to the Israelites as a parable. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: A great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and full plumage of varied colors came to Lebanon. Taking hold of the top of a cedar, he broke off its topmost shoot and carried it away to a land of merchants, where he planted it in a city of traders.   “ ‘He took one of the seedlings of the land and put it in fertile soil. He planted it like a willow by abundant water, and it sprouted and became a low, spreading vine. Its branches turned toward him, but its roots remained under it. So it became a vine and produced branches and put out leafy boughs.   “ ‘But there was another great eagle with powerful wings and full plumage. The vine now sent out its roots toward him from the plot where it was planted and stretched out its branches to him for water. It had been planted in good soil by abundant water so that it would produce branches, bear fruit and become a splendid vine.’   “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Will it thrive? Will it not be uprooted and stripped of its fruit so that it withers? All its new growth will wither. It will not take a strong arm or many people to pull it up by the roots. It has been planted, but will it thrive? Will it not wither completely when the east wind strikes it—wither away in the plot where it grew?’ ”   Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Say to this rebellious people, ‘Do you not know what these things mean?’ Say to them: ‘The king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and carried off her king and her nobles, bringing them back with him to Babylon. Then he took a member of the royal family and made a treaty with him, putting him under oath. He also carried away the leading men of the land, so that the kingdom would be brought low, unable to rise again, surviving only by keeping his treaty. But the king rebelled against him by sending his envoys to Egypt to get horses and a large army. Will he succeed? Will he who does such things escape? Will he break the treaty and yet escape? – Ezekiel 17:1-15 NIV

There is clearly a lot of historical context here that is tied to this specific place and time, but there is also some deeper philosophical water here. God is describing a forcibly transplanted people, the people of Israel. As a gardener this passage holds special meaning to me. Plants are transplanted for a range of reasons. The ones that come to mind are: 1) to increase the success of young plants that may have difficulty starting out; 2) to allow “root bound” plants to continue to grow and send out deep roots to reach water and nutrients; 3) to quickly transform a landscape by planting mature plants. All of these have interesting allegorical significance in light of God’s current and past dealings with His people. Let’s dig into these one at a time.

I have had the blessing of many gardens during my lifetime and I love to plant my own starts in the spring time to get a jump start on gardening before the weather outside is able to support tender plants like tomatoes and peppers.  In raising seedlings it is important to time the planting and transplanting right so that they are not too big or too small when it is time to transplant them into the garden.  God has a similar challenge with the people of Israel.  He knows that in order to grow they need to be moved from their “comfortable coffin” in Jerusalem.  The tricky part is timing.  Transplant them too early and the tender plants will whither under the strain of their new surroundings.  Transplant them too late and they will have become root bound and stuck in their ways — unable to send their roots in the direction they need to send them to reach the real water they need and bear good fruit.

I am a nursery “junky” come spring time. I love to walk through the aisles of young plants dreaming about the gardens and beautiful landscapes they can become. I suspect God looks upon us that way sometimes. We all have such potential when planted in the right location, in good soil, and with access to the Living Water God promises for those who follow Him. All this potential can be lost by stubborn plants who refuse to be moved from their comfortable spot in the greenhouse. Plants left too long in their pots become root bound and/or “leggy”. The green growth is not supported by the improper, or out of proportion, root development. This is an apt description of the people of Israel and their place in Jerusalem, the city of David. It is a comfortable greenhouse and the people of Israel are content becoming root bound in their small pots, but God has dreams of a much more magnificent garden and landscape. He needs to move them to accomplish His “garden”.

God wants to take the these transplants out into the “desert”, i.e. this land of Oblivion, to transform it into a beautiful place.  I think the relationship God has fostered and cared for with the people of Israel was never simply because they were special.  They had a purpose.  That purpose was to bear good fruit and transform the place they were planted into a beautiful place. I think all modern-day God followers have the same position and purpose.  We are are meant to transform our world into a beautiful place, or at least try our best to do so.

We are all transplants from a place that is not like earth, the secret place, God’s greenhouse if you will. Here on earth we are subject to harsh winds, scorching heat, and drenching rains. If we are to survive and thrive we need the care and support of the one who planted us here. We must not only survive, but thrive, where God has planted us and bear the fruit were are intended to bear.

Prayer: God help us to thrive where we are planted. Give us the support we need when the place we have been transplanted to is harsh or unfamiliar.

Posted in Covenant, Discernment, Ezekiel, Following God, garden, God's Love for Us, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | 1 Comment

Washed with Water

brooklyn_museum_-_the_washing_of_the_feet_le_lavement_des_pieds_-_james_tissot

The Washing of the Feet (Le lavement des pieds) by James Tissot

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.   “ ‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!”  I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.   “ ‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord , and you became mine.   “ ‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord . – Ezekiel 16:1-14

Today’s passage recounts a stark (actually stark naked) beginning to the nation of Israel.  Ezekiel is providing a rich word picture of the beginning of the people of Israel and their relationship with God.  They were as a baby born with no one to care for it, an abandoned infant, unwashed and unclean.  Tossed in a field to fend for itself.  Not a pretty picture of the beginnings of a great nation…kind of like a king being born in a dirty stable full of animals I guess.

God intervened and took pity on this abandoned child and said “I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” “.  God wanted this baby, thrashing about in its own blood, to have a home and a parent to care for it.  He adopted the nation of Israel and cleansed it with water, “I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you”.  God entered a covenant relationship with the people of Israel when they had nothing to contribute to the relationship.  It was God’s reaching arm that saved them rather than their own ability to reach out and “grab” God by the hand.

God then reminds the people that all the adornment and success that followed this initial adoption is a gift from Him – “you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen”  Their “hairy crown” was a result of actions that God took to make them great rather than their own skill and knowledge.

It think there is a very important word for all those who have accepted their status as adopted children of God.  We were all no better than the early Israelites when God “found” us bleeding and thrashing about in the world without Him.  He cleansed us with the living water of His spirit and clothed us with all the righteousness we need to stand in His presence.  We, like the Israelites in this passage, must not forget that all the success and “adornments” that we obtain in this world are gifts from God rather than deserved privileges we have earned.

Prayer: Thank You God for adopting us, cleansing us, and clothing us with all the clothes we need to stand in Your presence.

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