Formations 04.06.2014: Hopeful Waiting

Ezekiel 36:22-32

Ephraim Moses Lilien, An Allegorical Wedding: Sketch for a carpet dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. David Wolffsohn Triptych (from right to left): Exile, Marriage, Redemption, 1906

Ephraim Moses Lilien, An Allegorical Wedding: Sketch for a carpet dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. David Wolffsohn Triptych (from right to left): Exile, Marriage, Redemption, 1906

I’m writing this article the day after teaching my Mercer University students about the Babylonian exile and its place in biblical history. It is nearly impossible to overstate the influence of this literally world-changing event. The exile is foundational for all that comes after it, transforming the land- and temple-based religion of the ancient Hebrews into the Bible-centered religion of the Jews.

The exile was the setting in which Israel began to ask its most difficult questions. Why did God allow the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to happen? How can we be God’s people when we no longer have a homeland, a king, or a temple? What does it mean to follow God in such a time as this?

Like any other tragedy, the exile provoked a process of grief. Biblical texts give us glimpses of how different believers dealt with the trauma of exile. Obadiah and Psalm 137 reveal that some responded with feelings of anger. Echoing themes from the prophets, the core books of biblical history from Joshua to 2 Kings seek a theological answer to the “why” questions by pointing to Israel’s own disobedience to God’s commands.

Some biblical voices express the conviction that, although they are currently passing through dark times, the people of Israel will not be utterly abandoned. God still has plans for them, and the last chapter of their history has not yet been written.

That is the message of our text from Ezekiel 36. Out of the humiliation of national destruction, God speaks through Ezekiel to proclaim the hope of future restoration. God promises Israel a new heart and a new spirit so that they may follow God faithfully and repent of their sins.

Discussion

• How has tragedy led you to deeper faith?
• How can believers remember to turn to God in difficult times? What if it seems God is absent or inattentive to our needs?
• Note that God works to restore Israel not for their own sake, but for the sake of God’s own reputation. How does this truth keep the story centered on God rather than humans?
• What does it mean to have a “new heart” and “new spirit”? Does this transformation happen all at once, or does it come gradually?
• What sort of restoration do you need to experience today?

Reference Shelf

A Dramatic Turn

The words against foreign nations, Ammon (25: 1-7), Moab (25:8-11), Edom (25:12-14), the Philistines (25:15 17), Tyre (chaps. 26–28), and Egypt (chaps. 29-32) are dated (with the exception mentioned earlier) to the years preceding and following the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6. In addition, all of these nations played some role in the disaster—note the later words against “Mount Seir” (= Edom, chap. 35) and “Gog and Magog” (“Magog” is formed by reversing and incrementing the letters in “Babylon”: bbl/mgg, chaps. 38–39).

The book makes a dramatic turn at this point. Now the watchman is vindicated (33:1-33) his spectacular words have more than entertainment value (33:32; cf. 20:49). In the extended metaphor of the shepherd who exploits his flock, there is the hope, at long last, for a proper shepherd/king out of the Davidic dynasty who will express the concern of God for his flock (chap. 34). This leads into an image of a transformed people living in an abundantly fertile land, in which the “mountains of Israel” (chap. 36) are contrasted with the blighted “Mount Seir”(chap. 35). The vision of the resuscitation of sun-bleached skeletons (37:1-14), followed by the prophetic action of holding two sticks so that they appear to be one (37:15-28), offers hope for the restoration of a united Israel, with one king and one sanctuary.

Roy D. Wells Jr., “Ezekiel, Book of,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 284.

SHBC

Ezekiel 36:22-32, Yahweh thus declares that Yahweh is about to act for the sake of his reputation. Yahweh will gather the Israelites from the nations to which they were scattered and settle them in their own land, cleanse them with waters of purification, give them new hearts, and endow them with his spirit so that they will be able to observe his statutes and ordinances. Only now, cleansed of their impurities and made responsive in ways they have never been before, will it be possible for Israel to inherit the land Yahweh promised long ago to their ancestors.

Israel does not deserve this mercy, but Yahweh’s dishonor in the sight of the nations leaves Yahweh no alternative. For this reason, Yahweh commands Israel to be ashamed of all that it has done. Elsewhere in this commentary, it has been noted that shame language is associated with the covenant. Its use at key points calls attention to Yahweh’s reliability and Israel’s unreliability…. The same observation can be made here, since Israel’s shame is attached to the recognition that Yahweh has been forced to act in a certain way (v. 32; cf. 22). Thus, even as Yahweh fully honors the covenant by summoning the grain and making the land so fruitful that it will be compared with the garden of Eden, the house of Israel must remember its ways through shame and self-loathing.

Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005) 442.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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Comments

  1. Dear Darrell,I really find your blog and page warlmy interesting. I am a classical Pentecostal boy (45 year old clergyman with the Church of God, Clvn TN). I come from paternal Baptist roots and maternal Holiness (Saved, Sanctified, Holy Ghost Baptism) roots. I acted as though the church really began late 1800s. Until I had a near death bout with cancer. I read church history, writings of the church fathers and history of the reformation only to finish those long boring books and my goal was not to learn, only to retain for the test and then flush my mind of that impractical lengthy and boring stuff. However, I find myself appreciating the early church and especially the church fathers. Whilst I still like my church’ loud and lively, I have developed a great appreciation for the liturgical thoughts. For nearly two years we have been reading from the lectionary list every Sunday in church.I founded a quasi rescue mission that is supported like a traditional rescue mission. We have the lame, maim and crazy on Sunday morning in our inner city chapel. While visiting donor sacramental churches I almost shouted and got happy’ (traditional pentecostal term when something spiritual evokes an emotional response’ because the words that they were reading rather lethargicly really took meaning in my life. So, began my research . . . I have become the only thing worse than a catholic ecumenical (in spirit not doctrine). I realized that the church did not began with reformation, revival, pentecostal at the turn of the century charismatic renewal of the 70s. All of these things are continuations build upon many years of prayer and soundness.Thanks for your insight Frank