Uniform 11.02.2014: If You Build It, God Will Come

Ezekiel 43:1-12

In the iconic 1989 film, Field of Dreams, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella is moved by a mysterious voice to plow under most of his cornfield and build a baseball field.

“If you build it, he will come,” the voice whispers.

So Ray Kinsella builds a baseball field on his farm, much to the chagrin and confusion of his family and friends, who are concerned about Ray’s financial and mental well-being.

Ezekiel’s message for the Judeans in exile might have sounded only a little less bizarre than the one Ray Kinsella heard. “If you rebuild the temple,” Ezekiel says, “God’s glory will fill it again.”

The people know that they can’t rebuild the temple in Jerusalem while they are stuck in Babylon. And, at this point, they are not confident that they will ever return home. Without the familiar structures of their worship, they feel removed from God and are unsure that God will ever live among them again.

But here is Ezekiel, claiming to have experienced a vision in which he received the blueprints for a new temple and saw God’s glory fill the completed structure. Like Ray Kinsella’s neighbors in small town Iowa, the exiles probably think Ezekiel is crazy.

In the film, Ray’s risk pays off. His cornfield baseball diamond becomes a place for ball players who had to leave the game in their prime, or who never really got a chance to play, to pick up a bat and glove again. Ray is even reunited with his deceased father through the mysterious field. He built it, and his father came.

Ezekiel’s vision challenges the exiles—and us—to trust that God wants to dwell among us. Even when God feels so far away that we wonder if we will ever experience God’s presence again, Ezekiel wants us to know that God has a plan to overcome the distance between us. If we create places for God to inhabit, God will meet us there. If we build them, God will come.

Discussion

1. When have you behaved in a manner that our culture finds unusual or unacceptable? How were your actions received by others?
2. If you were an exile in Babylon, what would you think about Ezekiel’s vision?
3. In difficult situations when God feels far away, how do we find hope for the renewal of God’s presence in our lives?
4. How can we create space in our lives, both physical and emotional, for God to fill?

Resource

Field of Dreams. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. Universal Pictures, 1989.

Reference Shelf

Once the measurements are completed, the bronze man takes Ezekiel back to the place where the tour had begun, the gate facing east, where Ezekiel sees return of the divine glory. The vision is explicitly linked to his inaugural vision at the Chebar canal (1:1) as well as to his vision of the destruction of the city (8:1). As the glory enters the temple, Ezekiel is lifted up by the spirit and carried into the inner court. Speaking from the inner room of the temple, Yahweh declares that this place will be his throne, where he will reside among the house of Israel forever.

The divine speech in vv. 6-12 has three parts. First, Yahweh declares that this structure is the place of his throne and footstool. Other biblical texts speak of heaven as God’s throne and earth as God’s footstool (cf. Matt 5:34-35); such a conception lies behind Isaiah’s vision of God sitting “high and lofty” on a throne with the hem of his garment filling the temple. By declaring that the temple is the location of both throne and footstool, Ezekiel construes the temple, not as an intersection of heaven and earth along an axis mundi, but a perfect merging of the two realms. A similar merging of mythic and historic space is reflected in the account of the river of life in chapter 47.

Second, Yahweh identifies the 
central abuse leading to the abandonment of the temple, and
 demands that the house of Israel put 
an end to these practices (43:7-9). The account, already filled with
 obscure technical terms, is further
 obfuscated by Ezekiel’s polemical 
language. At issue is the translation 
and interpretation of the difficult
 phrase in 43:7, which NRSV renders
 as “corpses of their kings at their 
deaths” […]. Recent studies have partially resolved the difficulty by 
suggesting that the phrase is prob
ably a reference to cult monuments.
 This commentary has built on that 
argument by suggesting that the 
monuments were substitutionary 
offerings, possibly devised in connection with the practice of the
 donation of the firstborn and
 intended to show devotion to
Yahweh. By condemning them as […] dungballs and worthless things, Ezekiel associates them with idolatry. Ezekiel 43:8 may indicate how these monuments came to be associated with idolatry, though the terminology of this verse is also obscure.

The new temple is completely cleansed of any activity associated with these practices. In this connection, one notes the relative plainness of the temple compound. There are buildings, doorways, and gates, but no monuments. The subsequent “law of the temple” will show how the design of the temple corrects the abuses of the past; for now, it is sufficient to observe that the temple is so structured as to accommodate human worshipers, not representations in wood and stone (cf. 20:40-41).

In the third section of the divine speech, Yahweh tells Ezekiel to declare its dimensions and ordinances to the house of Israel, and also to record them in writing. The content of Ezekiel’s message is further defined in v. 12 as instructions regulating access to the house (Heb. tôrat habbåyit; NRSV “law of the temple”). These instructions will be laid out in 44:13–46:24.

Resource

Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005) 496-98.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Uniform Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email