Uniform 11.16.2014: The Presence and Character of God

Ezekiel 47:1, 2-12

Water covers 71 percent of the surface of the Earth. Without it, life here is impossible. It’s fitting, then, that God gives Ezekiel an image of water to help him understand the far-reaching presence and the dynamic character of God. When I think of the water bodies I have seen, I realize that God’s presence and character are evident in each of them.

There was the sea—big, bold, constant as a heartbeat, unfathomable in its depths. I walked in the packed, wet sand of its shores, gazing out toward the horizon, marveling at the expanse of water, and imagining the enormous creatures swimming beneath the surface.

There was the river—muddy brown, sometimes rushing, sometimes still, showing its rocks and plant life or hiding them, depending on the rainfall. I drove over it every day, looking right and left of the bridge, watching the little island shrink or grow with the water level, spotting turtles on top of sunny rocks, seeing the swell of foam as the river rushed past in its mightiest moments.

There was the pond—comforting and calm, full of fish, surrounded by cattails and red dirt paths. I stood at its edge, letting my kids drop stones near the bank so they could giggle over the splash and delight in the never-ending rings that stretched out and out and out.

There was the bay—indescribably blue and peaceful, protected by a horseshoe of lovely trees, gently lapping at the white-sand beach that held few footprints. I floated on my back, breathing in the salty smell, running my fingers through the warm water, truly aware that I was in a magical place.

In a vision, Ezekiel’s guide shows him God as a river (Ezek 47). The river is flowing not to the temple but from it. Our lesson texts from Ezekiel are intended to bring great hope to a desperate, lonely, displaced people. Perhaps the most important truth in these Scriptures is that God is never contained. The people have looked for God and feel that they can only be close to God within the temple. Over and over again, God shows them that they are wrong about this.

Can we find God in the church? Of course. But we can also find God outside the church. In fact, I think that God intends for our encounters within the church building to go with us into our homes, our communities, and our world. Like all the bodies of water I’ve seen, the presence of God can be big, bold, constant, unfathomable, rushing and still, comforting and calm, peaceful, protective, and gentle. Strengthened by our encounters with God (both inside and outside the church), we can share God’s presence and character with the people around us each day.

Source: USGS Water Science School, http://water.usgs.gov/edu/earthhowmuch.html (accessed 6 November 2014).

Discussion

1. Have you had a positive, memorable experience with a body of water? What was it, and how did it make you feel?
2. Can you find other instances in Scripture where God is described as water? How are they different from the river in Ezekiel 47? How can the various types of water bodies show us God’s character?
3. How often do you use water each day? Have you ever had to go without water due to a pipe failure or some other crisis? What was that like?
4. Water is an absolute necessity for all people—indeed, for all life on Earth. Would you say that God is an absolute necessity for life as well? How do you know?
5. How can you communicate the presence and character of God to other people?

Reference Shelf

The River of Life, 47:1-12

Continuing on his tour, Ezekiel is led by the bronze man to the entrance of the temple, apparently a reference to the house itself, and not the outer east gate. While in the inner court, Ezekiel sees a stream trickling below the threshold and making its way toward the east. Following the stream’s course, the bronze man leads Ezekiel out of the temple through the north gate and toward the outer east gate. From there, Ezekiel sees the stream, still a trickle. The bronze man leads Ezekiel into the water, and takes out a measuring cord, a different measuring instrument than the one used inside the temple. As the man measures the stream in four 1000-cubit segments, Ezekiel stands in the stream at each point, and reports that the stream reaches his ankles, then his knees and waist, until it is so deep that he cannot stand. At this point, the meaning of the measurements is clear: this stream is, quite literally, immeasurable. The man’s question, “have you seen this?” echoes Yahweh’s question in 8:17, and suggests that Yahweh has effected a complete transformation of the land that had become so polluted by the abominations of the house of Israel. In vv. 8-12, Ezekiel sees trees “for healing” on both sides of the river, and learns that the river flows into the Dead Sea, where it so freshens the waters that it becomes good fishing grounds. In this vision of transforming the Dead Sea with the healing streams of the river of life, Ezekiel has again merged historical geography with myth. Just as the dwelling place of God has become miraculously visible in the mountains of Israel, so has the land become miraculously transformed by this powerful river of life, believed in ancient Near Eastern myth to flow from the dwelling place of the gods.

Resource

Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005) 520-521.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum since 2001. She is a member of West Highland Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and watching British television shows. Her goal for 2014 is to learn to play the piano.

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