Christianity 201

August 3, 2017

Ezekiel and the Glory Days

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel like our glory days are well behind us. Some look back to when one hundred sit-ups were an easy thing, others look back to when they could simply sit up without help. Some look back to better paychecks. Some look back to when children were home and a spouse was still alive. Some look back to a time when loved ones were not suffering. When the aches and pains of life settle in, we can long for the “glory days” we see in the rear-view mirror.

God’s people in Ezekiel’s day would have felt that their glory days were behind them. They could look back to the days of David and Solomon, and see how things had never been quite as good as they were then. And now that they are in exile, Jerusalem is destroyed, and the temple lay in ruins, there would be a strong temptation to keep their eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror in search of the “glory days”.

The prophecies in Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39 spoke to God’s people about their glory days. They speak to us today about ours. Let’s take a bird’s eye view.

Chapter 36. The first prophecy is directed toward the land itself. For example,

. . . and I will multiply human beings and animals upon you. They shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 36:11 (NRSV)

The wording of this alludes to “Be fruitful and multiply” from Genesis 1:28 which recalls Eden before the ground was cursed thanks to Adam (see Genesis 3:17). The promise is for a future even better than the glory days!

The second prophecy of chapter 36 is directed at the people. Among the promises are the following:

I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:24-27 (NRSV)

The promise goes well beyond a mere return to the land and the status quo. God promises to clean His people up and give them His Spirit. This is a far better situation than what they enjoyed in the “glory days” of David and Solomon.

Chapter 37. The first prophecy is the infamous “dry bones” vision where Ezekiel sees dry bones come together, and then come alive when life is breathed into them. This is another allusion to Genesis when God breathed life into Adam (see Genesis 2:7). There is a tension in this vision between a metaphorical interpretation, meaning a promise of return from exile, and a more literal interpretation, meaning an anticipated resurrection from the dead. We feel this tension in verse 12:

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Ezekiel 37:12 (NRSV)

We should probably see both here, with a return from exile made even better by the fact that all past generations will be able to participate as well. This would be far better than the past glory days.

The second prophecy speaks of there being one king again, like the glory days of David and Solomon. But watch for what is repeated again and again in the following:

 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. . . . They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore Ezekiel 37:22-26 (NRSV)

Words like “never again” and “forever” are important, whereas in the glory days of the past, the big word was “if”. That is, “if you are faithful to me things will go well”. Here in Ezekiel’s prophecy there is no “if”, just God’s people enjoying God forevermore. This is much better than the glory days of the past.

Chapters 38 and 39. These are prophecies against a land called Gog. There has been much conjecture as to the identity of Gog. For now, let us notice that the enemies assemble to the north (see Ezekiel 38:1-6). The Assyrians invaded from the north when they destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. The Babylonians invaded from the north when they destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah. The point is that such destruction will never happen again! The safety and security of God’s people will be much better than in the glory days of the past.

Concluding chapter 39, we can sum up Ezekiel 39:21-29 this way: “God hid His face from His people and they went into exile because they sinned against Him. But now God, for the sake of His glory, will be generous with His Spirit and never hide His face from them again.”

Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind; 29 and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 39:28-29 (NRSV)

This is not just restoration of the former status quo. This is restoration to God! This is much better than in the glory days of the past!

History records that God’s people did, in fact, return from exile in Babylon to their own land. However, there was a problem. Not only were things not better than the glory days of David and Solomon, they were not even as good. Roman occupation made sure that Israel’s glory days remained firmly in the past. However, this seeming lack of prophetic fulfillment points us to the the greater fulfillment in Christ. The fulfillment of these promises lies not in the flourishing of an empire-like kingdom called Israel, but in a greater Kingdom brought through Jesus Christ. There is a much bigger exile in view here; separation from the presence of God. Through Jesus we have:

  • Cleansing from sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit, as in Ezekiel 36.
  • Resurrection from the dead, and the inclusion of all generations in the promise, as in Ezekiel 37:1-14.
  • The Messiah as the Lord of a united and holy people, as in Ezekiel 37:15-28.
  • A future, safe and secure from every enemy, as in Ezekiel 38 and 39:1-20.
  • Restoration, not just to a land, but to God Himself, as in 39:21-29.

The days of David and Solomon never really were the glory days. The days of Adam and Eve before the fall are a better fit for the title “glory days”. According to Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39, the glory days are ahead. When we find ourselves wishing we could be restored to the so-called glory days of our past, in Christ we have something far better; restoration to God Himself. In Christ our glory days are ahead! As Randy Bachman famously sang “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

September 1, 2015

Bowing Before God

Every Knee Will Bow and Every Tongue Confess

Occasionally we feature writing by young authors whose blogs are new to the various Alltop pages, this one is from Alltop – Christianity. The website is titled Your Bible Quotes, and the writer is Sonya Richards.

Glory of God the Father – Name Above All Names

Glory of God the Father

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall  bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV)

Although Paul talked about this in his letter to the Philippians, the foundation of Philippians 2:9-11 comes from Isaiah.

I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath. Isaiah 45:23 (NKJV)

The near, literal application (meaning its immediate, possibly symbolic, relevance at the time of its writing) of this scripture is to the Israelites in captivity in Babylon and to King Cyrus who would lead them back to their ancestral homeland to the glory of God. Although Cyrus was a pagan king, God used him to accomplish His work, showing that God can do whatever He chooses, and work through whomever He desires. Proverbs 21:1 says:

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases. Proverbs 21:2 (NLT)

It Shall Come to Pass

There is a principle that is applied to certain Biblical prophesies called “double fulfillment,” meaning it has a first fulfillment, often immediate, and a second, or even multiple, fulfillment(s) later on. All prophesies point to Jesus in some way to the glory of God. In some cases prophesies can even be split between current and future fulfillments with no specific designation as to what or when they refer to, such as in Matthew 24:2-3. Jesus prophesied that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and spoke of the signs of the second coming. In verse 2 He speaks of the literal destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., and in verse 3 speaks to the final judgment, and yet, they appear side-by-side.  They are not in succession chronologically, yet they are conceptually associated.

Some believers abstain from reading the Old Testament for various reasons. They think is too hard to understand, they think it is obsolete, or they think it is not important; nevertheless, the whole Bible is God’s Word. If the Old Testament were obsolete, or unimportant God would not supernaturally, as He does for the whole Bible, shield it from extinction. It is the foundation for the New Testament, which is why reading the whole Bible is important.

Paul refers to the aforementioned passage in Isaiah in his letter to the Romans regarding the Good News of salvation:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:10-12 (ESV)

The Second Coming of the Lord

Someday the Lord Jesus Christ will return to the Earth to take His children home, the committed, submitted, and sanctified, in the blink of an eye, and those left behind will try, out of fear, to strike a bargain to save themselves, unfortunately, it will be much too late in the game. If you have not accepted Jesus as your Savior, it is not too late now to turn to God; He is calling even now.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52(NIV) Glory to God in the highest; forever, He reigns!

It is notable that our opening scripture from Philippians, is similar to Isaiah 45, and Romans 14 as quoted from Isaiah, in that it contains the same foundational reference of bending the knee and confessing, declaring, or taking an oath (to God), but there is a new and wider meaning added in Philippians to encompass not just believers, but also non-believers; essentially every person on earth will partake in “bending the knee” before Jesus.

In the Isaiah passage, echoed by Paul in Romans, God says every knee will bow to Him but in Philippians Paul said God gives Jesus a name above all names and every knee will bow at its utterance to the glory of God the Father. God takes the highest place, even in the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; therefore, even as the text refers to knees bowing at the name of Jesus, it is still for the glory of God the Father.

When Paul in Philippians says every knee will bow, it is clear that He is referring to believers, because the passage in Isaiah refers to the Jewish exiles, and the quote from Romans is also to believers because Paul calls them “brothers and sisters,” but the Philippians passage refers to all people, and, based on the verbiage, includes both believers and non-believers, meaning every knee will bow willingly or will be forced to bow. In the end, no one will be able to resist Him.

When Jesus comes on the scene to the glory of God, His brilliance, ten thousand times brighter than the noon-day sun, will blaze across the sky and we know “every eye will see Him.” I posit that everyone will fall to their knees, either out of pure joy for those who love His appearing, out of shock, or out of fear and a sense of self-preservation such as begging for their lives.

Every Eye Will See Him

In that day, when Jesus Christ the Lord comes on the clouds of Heaven with fire and every eye sees Him, those who ridicule Him now, who curse His holy name, will have to bow when it is spoken in their hearing (glory to God!), much the same as all were made to bow towards the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel Chapter 3; however, no one will be able to resist as Daniel did, because God, and His Son, rule supreme. And the tragic end for those who refuse to believe and be saved is that the Lord will delay as long as He can to allow as many as will come, to come before this age comes to a close, and yet, some will never yield.

 

November 16, 2012

Defining ‘Israel’ in Amos

A friend once explained to me the complications that can arise when reading prophecy can be simplified if envision the prophet seeing the events in the distance as what happens when you skip a stone across the water. The stone touches down in various places, and we can think in terms of each skip as representing a time in which the prophecy sees fulfillment.

For example, the words spoken by Joel — that your sons and daughters will prophesy and your old men dream dreams — finds fulfillment both in the book of Acts at Pentecost and also in the ‘last days’ in which we are now living.

Acts 2:15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.

There are various references in prophetic literature that find apparent fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem but also in the apocalypse described in the New Testament’s final book.

Time doesn’t permit a full examination of this — though if you submit one, we’ll use it — because I wanted to focus instead on what happens when the prophetic writing includes the use of a proper noun, such as Israel. Is this referring to modern-day Israel, or Israel at the time of writing, or even spiritual Israel?

Luke Wisely delved into this at the blog Secondum Scripturas, which some of you will want to explore further.  Here’s the link to today’s reading which is also what follows; and a link to the first of the three chapters under consideration, Amos 7.

WHO IS ISRAEL?: A PERSPECTIVE FROM AMOS 7-9

Defining who “Israel” is can prove to be a difficult task because of the ambiguity of the term. In the book of the Twelve, “Israel” can refer to the restored covenantal people (Amos 9:7-10), the Northern Kingdom (Amos 5:1-3), Southern Kingdom (Mal 2:11), or an idealised future community of faith (Zech. 12:1-14:21).[1] The ambiguity does not just occur in different books of the Hebrew Bible, but even occurs within books.

In Amos 7-9 there are multiple ways to refer to Israel: Jacob, my people Israel, Isaac, House of Jeroboam, House of Israel, Booth of David. The remainder of this essay will describe how Amos 7-9 presents Israel and how this may impact the identity of God’s people.

Beginning in the first two visions (Amos 7:1-3, 4-6) the term “Jacob” is used in conjunction with “small” echoing Gen. 27:15, 42 connoting the historic people of Israel.[2] Thus, Amos’ first two visions are concerned with the longevity of the historic, covenant people of Israel.

Amos’ third vision (Amos 7:7-9) moves beyond historical Israel (7:8) and progresses to the present day divided nation with Yahweh’s claim that he will rise against the house of Jeroboam–the Northern Kingdom (Amos 7:9).

In verses 10-17, the narrative of Amaziah and Amos shows the issue of the Northern Kingdom and the question of Israel. In this narrative, Amaziah distinguishes between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and makes the claim that the north is the rightful heir of the land and designates Amos, a “seer of Judah”only.[3] Amos’ reply is that his prophetic authority rests beyond the north and south and rests with all of Israel: “my people Israel (7:15).”[4]

After the vision that both the north and the south fill face judgment (8:1-3), Amos 9:11-15 asserts the restoration for all of Israel–the Booth of David. 9:7-8 deconstructs the idea of assuredness resting in election as Amaziah did. Anyone claiming to embody all of “Israel” as God’s people based on election and covenant will be subject to judgment[5] and will die by the sword (9:10). “Israel” as the restored people of God as presented in chapter 9 will be those who renew their vocation as God’s people.[6]

Amos presents “Israel” in its past, present, and future.   Thus, in Amos, “Israel” is presented in transition to identify with their past, their present split nation, and hope in a restored community of faith.[7] The description of “Israel” as found in Amos 7-9 may prove to describe that although “Israel” may represent a people’s historic roots through to a split kingdom, “Israel” as the eschatological people of God, will only be those who renew their calling as the people of God.

 


[1]          Heath A. Thomas, “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address,” in Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, ed. Craig G. and Beldman Bartholomew, David J.H., (Grand Rapids / Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012).: 365.

[2]          J. Gordon McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,” in Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes, ed. Brad E. and Kelle and Megan Bishop Moore, Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies 446 (New York / London: T&T Clark, 2006).: 139-143.

[3]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 145-146.

[4]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 147.

[5]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 151.

[6]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 151.

[7]          Thomas, “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address,”: 365-366. Thomas applies this to the presentation of “Israel” in the Twelve. It also addresses “Israel” within Amos 7-9.

 

Bibliography

McConville, J. Gordon. “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel.” In Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes, edited by Brad E. and Moore Kelle, Megan Bishop, 132-151. New York / London: T&T Clark, 2006.

Thomas, Heath A. “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address.” In Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, edited by Craig G. and Beldman Bartholomew, David J.H., 356-379. Grand Rapids / Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012.