The Watchman

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Photo credit to someone on internet.

 

“…But he that takes warning shall deliver his soul.” Ezekiel 33:5

 
I really don’t think much about the importance or value of a watchman or tsaphah, in Hebrew. Since we don’t have kings and fortified cities any more, we’re used to just living life our way, in our time, as we like it. We don’t even need to be close knit as a community any more because we don’t have to worry about danger and being overcome in the same way. Well, some tribal areas and some countries still worry, but not most of us.

 
Well, it would do well for me to learn to be more observant and patient and watchful. Being in the Philippines now helps me to be alert more. Not because I’m worried about warring factions invading the city, though the people God was speaking to should have been, but because there are people here who are snatchers or “pick-pockets” mixed in with the ordinary citizens. But God is using this earthly notion that the people understood, of a watchmen set upon the wall, to teach a more heavenly, a more personal God-truth.

 
In the reality of Bible times, a watchman would be chosen and set upon the city wall. He would look out and peer into the distance, observing and waiting and watching closely. I can see him leaning forward to discern carefully what he was seeing. Here’s an example of what it was like from 2 Samuel 18: 24-26, “And David sat between the two gates: and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate unto the wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone.” So, we have this watchman looking intently and making out the image of this man running alone. Now look how carefully he watched and responded, “And the watchman cried, and told the king. And the king said, ‘If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.’ And he came and drew near. And the watchman saw another man running: and the watchman called unto the porter, and said, ‘Behold another man is running alone.’ And the king said, ‘He also brings news.’ And the watchman said, ‘I think the one running in the front is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.’” Wow! The watchman was so alert that he could tell by the way a man ran, who he was!

 
So the job of the watchman was to watch and be the voice and action of the beginning of protection for the city. He was like a really majorly important smoke alarm. He could prevent the people from dying in their “sleep” so to speak. If he saw something suspicious or the enemy approaching with sword, he would act and blow the trumpet and alert the people so they could be prepared to fight. It was the people’s responsibility after that to act according to the warning, to rise and fight. The watchman’s job had been accomplished. He had been faithful. If the people don’t respond to his warning and are taken away, it’s no longer his fault, it is by their own decision and not his.

 
But then God tells a different story. If there should be a watchman who `should see the enemy coming and not warn, and not blow the trumpet, then the guilt shall be upon the watchman for the blood of the people that is shed. So what does this have to do with me?
I can’t help but listen to the words of God to Ezekiel and hear Him speaking them to all His children in the areas where they live and serve. I mean, I don’t think that we have to be prophets to understand the importance and value of what God is teaching here through Ezekiel and I don’t think He wants Ezekiel to be the only watchman on a many sided walled city. Listen and watch carefully to His words, “ So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from My mouth, you shall give them warning from Me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.’” (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

 
Ezekiel was a prophet and was responsible for watching what the Lord was doing and saying and for watching what the people were doing. He was responsible before God for telling them the truth and warning them of the danger coming that was accompanied by their unGodly choices. Am I so naive as to think that as a believer, who has knowledge of the truth and the Good News of Jesus Christ in God that I am not likewise responsible as a watchman for those around me? Why was Ezekiel a watchman? Because by His position in God as one who was given God’s words, he was responsible for sharing it with those around him. What about me? Has God given me a position in Him where He has given me His word? That doesn’t make me a prophet, but I would certainly think it compels me to be a watchman. It’s more than a compelling. I believe that God has called us to be watchmen.

 
But I can’t be the right kind of watchman unless I understand what my heart needs to be as a watchman. Psalm 5:3 helps me think about that. “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” In the King James version instead of expectation, it uses “will look up” and in the ESV it uses “watch.” It’s a Hebrew idiom. So I want to understand it correctly. What did the people in David’s court understand about this that I might not now, when I read it? That expectation, or looking up, or watching, is a form of that word tsaphah. Remember how it is the “idea of being fully aware of circumstances in order to gain an advantage”? To “look up” was to expect a response, to expect an answer. Here’s how it related to the times.

 
To come before the king with a request one would bow their head, well, not only their head, they would bow low to the floor, with their face to the floor and present their request. Only if the king said, “Look at me,” only then would you raise those eyes to his face in anticipation of his answer to you. That’s what David was talking about. And that ought to be the response of the watchman.

 
A watchman has come before the king. He or she has humbled themselves fully before Him. He has taken their sin and accepted their lives in service and says, “Look at me.” We raise our eyes and our lives in anticipation of seeing Him and hearing and obeying HIs answers. He gives us His answer and He gives us our position in Him. I must continually come before Him to learn what to look for, always knowing that He will invite me to look up and know. In anticipation I wait and therefore I can watch with discernment those things in life around me and around others. I can share His words with them that I might snatch them from the fire toward which they are headed. I can warn by sharing the truth He has shared with me. I can warn by sharing the love He has shared with me. I can warn by giving as He has given for me.

 
Ezekiel’s not the only watchman on the wall. The question is, Believer, will you be the watchman that God has called you to be? God has given us each this glorious means in Himself to rescue the perishing, to prepare others from the attack of the enemy. Will I go down with blood on my hands? Or if others are lost, will it be of their own choice and not due to my lack of warning. God, make me a watchman who cares about those I watch as much as You care.

 
I thought of Jonah yesterday who was sent as a watchman to Nineveh. Maybe it’s easier to love your own people. Maybe not. But I just think of God’s heart when Jonah was upset by God’s forgiveness upon his warning, and how God cared about even the little ones who didn’t know right from left yet. Or maybe that isn’t even referring to little kids. Maybe that’s referring to all the people who would be destroyed due to the evil they were choosing because no one had shared the truth that they even had a choice. Hey, if I don’t even know I have a left and a right, how can I choose? But God is the Ultimate Watchman, and He cared enough to send Jonah. If only Jonah had understood and felt the same love that God did for these people, maybe he would have been like a Paul of the New Testament. Lord, I want to be a watchman after Your own heart, like You. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that You taught others to be watchmen over me. Now it’s my turn.

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Crocodile Tears

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Photo credit to doc_ | sxc.hu

 

“Ezekiel, son of man, condemn the king of Egypt and tell him I am saying, ‘You act like a lion roaming the earth; but you are nothing more than a crocodile in a river, churning up muddy water with your feet.’” (Ezekiel 32:2)

 
Crocodiles and uncircumcision, those are the words for today from Ezekiel chapter 32. What in the world do crocodiles and uncircumcision have to do with my spiritual walk today? They can have a lot to do with it. I’m not quite sure why the King James Version chooses to interpret the Hebrew word tanniyn here as whales, but I think that since it was interpreted as crocodiles back in chapter 29, it’s safe to assume that crocodile fits best here too. I mean, after all, crocodiles were a big part of life in Egypt. As a matter of fact, to Egypt, they were part of the divine. Let’s face it, they were worshipped as gods. It’s how Pharaoh saw himself. Of course, the crocodile wasn’t the only god. There were other gods, but this was the god that Pharaoh admired for it’s strength. This is how Pharaoh saw himself. This was the god Pharaoh modeled his heart after.

 
But the truth is that crocodiles aren’t gods. Cows aren’t gods. Cats and frogs and flies and fleas aren’t gods. And Pharaohs aren’t gods. Just because we choose to worship something, it doesn’t make it god. The truth is that only God is god no matter how we feel. And God alone has the power, the ability, the strength and might to prove Himself.
God will prove Himself, always and forever, but He also gives people time to see His proofs before they fall before them. I think it’s something how God takes that major god image, the crocodile, or Pharaoh, and how He uses the imagery here. I mean, here He is, going to catch this terrifying beast in a net. How authentic is that? I mean, is this really getting home to Pharaoh?

 
The Expositor’s Bible puts Pharaoh Hophra there at Ezekiel’s warning. And I was wondering how much this imagery of catching a crocodile in a net would be familiar then. So I did a little research on crocodiles and Egypt. I found that some Egyptians reverenced crocodiles and some Egyptians hated crocodiles. There is a writing, translated and shared by Richard B. Parkinson, where Pharaoh Amenemhat “boasts of having tamed a lion and taken a crocodile prisoner.” (Paul Sheridan) Isn’t that interesting that God compared the Pharaoh to one who was comparing himself to a lion among nations and a crocodile? Seems our Pharaoh wasn’t the only one who viewed himself this way.

 
But did they use nets. First I read of a story shared where a hook was baited with a live pig and the screaming of the pig would lure the crocodile who could then be captured or killed. But then, the Library of History by Diodorus, tells us that heavy nets or iron spears were used from boats. So it seems to me that God is turning back familiar imagery, familiar practices back upon Pharaoh. I guess God has always employed parables, using everyday life to help us understand heavenly truths, God’s view.

 

 

Now, this is pretty hard reading because there will be violence upon Egypt all for the purpose of Egypt and all men knowing that God is God and there is no other. And maybe you think, how can that be a God of love, to violently destroy people like that? But then I was reading how over and over again God says He is going to cast these people down to death where the “uncircumcised” before them lay, the land of the dead. He will cast them down with all those who thought themselves mighty but were slain in their own strength, every nation that so chose and so lived, no matter how strong. Every one uncircumcised and now laying with the other circumcised with those who die and die. But the truth is, it didn’t have to be so. Because there is a place that men can go with those who die and yet live. Whose path would I choose to follow? To die with those who die or to die with those who live?

 

 

Who in the world are the uncircumcised? What does that mean? Does that mean that everyone but Jews were forsaken by God? Or does it mean that all those who forsake God are the uncircumcised? I tend to lean toward that second choice. I mean, after all, not all the Jews entered into His rest. Why? Though circumcised physically, did they forsake God’s ways spiritually as they walked through life? Yes. That place of eternal death will be lined with Pagans and Jews alike who forsake God. Nationality doesn’t matter. There are those who desire to trust in their own strength and their own greatness and their own way. It could be me just as well as Pharaoh. It could be Paul of Tarsus before he understood God’s real thinking. But there really is only one Lion of lions and His name is the Lion of Judah. And there really is only one Crocodile of crocodiles. Well, He’s bigger than that because He’s over all the crocodiles and catches them with ease and controls all the frogs and flies and kings and mighty men everywhere of all time.

 

 

To think myself a lion of lions or a crocodile of crocodiles is to live like the uncircumcised. It’s to live Godlessly. Oh, I can have all the gods I want. But I won’t have God. I can think I am as powerful as I want and that I can decide my own life and my own ways, but in the long run, I don’t and I can’t because I’m not God. I can’t extend my life or shorten it without His permission. Have you seen people go to every extent to lengthen their lives just to have it end anyways? Or have you seen someone who has attempted suicide and yet could not die? I have.

 

 

That’s the sad thing here. All along God wanted the Egyptians to know Him. He had shown Himself before them. But they, like others before them, and others after them, wanted their power to be their own. And the truth of that reality is that it’s not our own. All power comes from God. He raises kingdoms for His purposes and He lays kingdoms down for His purposes. But His ultimate purpose always has been for men and women, boys and girls of all kingdoms to lay themselves at His feet under His power for His protection and love and guidance.

 

 

Here’s the truth. There have always been God scoffers who would rather design their own gods for their own ways. Peter warned of them but they have always been there and still are today. The question is, am I a God scoffer? Am I, like Pharaoh following my own sinful desires instead of God Himself? Am I, like Pharaoh, deliberately overlooking “this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not over look this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:4-9)

 

Have I come to repent of denying God His goodness in my life and those around me? Have I come to repent of deliberately overlooking Him and deliberately refusing to acknowledge Him in my life? If not, now is my warning, before I die and join the Godless down below. I can trust in anything I want, but I must know that my gods can’t follow me and they won’t be there for me. But if I trust God, He already is there for me, He already has me, and He has got a place for me with Him that I can start abiding in now. When I die, I want to die and join God in the world of the living, and since He is the living God, that place is found in Him. No crocodile tears for me. I’m moving from one life into greater life in Him!

Let’s Get Over Ourselves

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“…Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel…” Ezekiel 25:6

 
This chapter in Ezekiel really resonates in my life today. Here God was filling Ezekiel in on judgment of seven nations: Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistine, Tyre, Zidon, and Egypt. And each one was pretty much guilty in one of the same ways—contempt. God starts with Ammon who was guilty of “despite against the land of Israel.” That means they treated it despitefully, pushed her aside with contempt. Moab and Seir called the people heathen, like animals or a flock of locusts. Edom despised them as a people also. They were just filled with vengeance, and revenge, and offense toward them. Philistia added to that hatred. Now I’m not saying that the other nations weren’t guilty of hatred. I’m just saying to think about these character markers of these nations that God condemned for their actions. And maybe think about our very own nation and how we respond to one another and others.

 
Here’s part of the bad thing. John Gill shares that the clapping of hands and stamping of feet were gestures that showed joy and gladness. He goes on to say, “they had a secret joy in their heart, which they expressed by gestures, in the most spiteful and scornful manner they were capable of; which showed the wretched malignity of their dispositions against the children of Israel; they hated them with a perfect hatred.” Now, stop a minute. It’s one thing to disagree with a person or to even dislike them. But it’s a whole other ballpark to hate a person and to despise them, to see them not as people any more but as animals and locusts. That is the saddest state of affairs.

 
Here’s the problem, we’re all people. We’re all people of one nation or another. And people of any nation can choose for themselves who and what they will serve. But the truth is, every one of us belongs to this One God who created us, whether we believe it or deny it. Truth does exist and it exists in the Ever-Existent One. By nature of how we were created and Who created us, we each, individually, and as nations, have a divine purpose. We each, individually, and as nations, are given the opportunity to choose to live in and fulfill this purpose in God or reject it. The choice is ours. But, then again, so are the consequences. And here they are, being layed out in Ezekiel for those who would have none of God.

 
But just so one can know that I’m not just pointing fingers at “pagan” nations, let’s look at Israel herself. Why would God judge her, His own daughter? Let’s go back a little earlier in Ezekiel 22:6-10. “Behold the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood.  Father and mother are treated with contempt in you,; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and widowed are wronged in you.  You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths.  There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst.  In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual purity.” Here’s that despising going on again, that counting others as of little worth. You know, it really matters. It doesn’t matter who is doing the despising if the despising is being done. This treating others as though they have no worth is against God, it’s against creation, it’s against humanity. And I don’t give a hoot if a Republican, or Democrat, or Millenial, or American, or Asian, or German, or White, or Black, or Fuchsia, or LGBT, or Heterosexual, or Alien, or National is guilty of it toward another, they are guilty. And this is a bad kind of guilty, folks! And it’s gonna be our destruction if we can’t see it in ourselves and eradicate it in our own hearts if it’s there.

 
Regular people get caught up in this, not just nations and political affiliations. David despised the Lord, Uriah, and Bathsheba when he committed adultery. He didn’t give a hoot at the moment about the community of Israel or the fear of the Lord because of his feelings about what he wanted. What about Esau? He’s remembered by God and man as despising his birthright. Poor Esau? Really? He kept throwing it away like it was trash, and worth less than a bowl of stew! Michal thought less of David for his religious zeal.
We can get so caught up in ourselves, we loose sight that we belong to God. And when we lose sight of belonging to God, it’s indicated in our lives, just like in the city, when she forgot her purpose. Holy things of God become of no worth. They’re done away with. In Israel’s day it was the festivals, Temple implements, the Levitical priesthood, the rituals, God’s Sabbath. They become unnecessary, burdens, worthless to fulfilling our desires because life now has become about us and not about God. And everyone has to feel my way. If prayer is useless to me, it can’t be useful to anyone else. Remove it. If listening to God’s word is useless to me, it can’t be useful to anyone else. Remove it. I can’t ask you to have someone else bake your cake or do your flower arrangement even though I want to value God’s value and purpose. And I still value you even though you don’t agree with me. That’s why I politely declined and shared why I couldn’t be the one to make your cake. But someone else can. I didn’t persecute you, I just said, “No, I can’t do that because even though you are valuable to me, my God’s ways are even more valuable.”

 
In reality, this whole thinking is idolatry. It’s valuing my desire over God’s. It’s so easy to do it though. I can find reasons for rewriting all of Scripture if I want. But there is just something about worshipping God’s way. And it’s so hard in today’s world. But obviously, it wasn’t easy in Biblical times either. God is God or I am god, it’s one or the other. It’s His Sabbath or it’s mine. He either determines the times and seasons and their sanctity, or I’m busy making up my own calendar and my own world and disengage from God. Then I say, “Look at me. This is what was always intended.”

 
I think about the verse about Jesus in Isaiah 53:3. “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” We think of that part of Jesus being despised as being looked on with contempt and as worthless and pushed aside. And maybe that’s true. But there’s this older Isaiah scroll found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Lancaster and Monson who did extensive study on the Masoretic older text shares that it portrays the servant as “unremarkable and ignored (disregarded).” In other words, the suffering servant “gave no evidence of exulted status.” Skip Moen says, “Moreover, to those who knew him he was chadal shim, ‘lacking the importance of me.’” No wonder the community of Israel didn’t give him a thought.

 

It doesn’t stop there. Lancaster and Monson believe the phrase “like one from whom men hide their face” should be translated “as one concealing his face.” “The point is that the Servant disguised his true identity, not that people turned away from him.” (Skip Moen) And doesn’t that make sense when we look at Paul’s writings? It wasn’t like God put a crown on his head for everyone to see. Even Jesus said of Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father which is in heaven.” Maybe, just maybe everyone isn’t as obstinate as we think when it comes to denying God. Maybe our eyes had to be opened. Maybe we had to have a reason to look for Him. What if we can just be so content with our own truth we don’t even want to look for the real deal? And what if the Servant keeps His true identity secret until someone starts diligently seeking Him and the truth?

 

But what does this have to do with seeing others as worthless? Maybe it matters if I look at Jesus’ extreme example, of God’s glory and His love and faithfulness to us. In Philippians 2:3, Paul shares, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” We just saw God’s thinking. Here’s Jesus, who didn’t take being equal to God as something to wear like a robe. Here was God, who humbled Himself so that He looked and was just like everyone else around Him. Only He wasn’t really. He was still God. But God can only be perceived and experience spiritually.

 

Humility. Christ set the example. We really hate it, humility that is. It’s engraved in Greek thinking as deplorable. Aristotle, who most non-Jewish believers were later influenced by, declared “whatever prevents the development of virtue makes a person humble.” In other words, humility works against our being better people. To be someone, throw out humility. Can you see that in the world today? But that’s not what the Gospel shows. We can turn the world upside down through humility. We can turn the world upside down by becoming “servants, slaves, and lowly of heart.”

 

Do you want to see the truth of where despising people and despising God takes us? Listen to his part of Ezekiel 22:8-10 again. “You have despised My holy things and profaned My sabbaths. Slanderous men have been in you for the purpose of shedding blood, and in you they have eaten at the mountain shrines. In your midst they have committed acts of lewdness. In you they have uncovered their fathers’ nakedness; in you they have humbled her who was unclean in her menstrual impurity.” And we say, “Really, what difference does menstrual impurity mean anyway? Legalism!” That’s not what this is about. This is about sexual mores in society. It’s about how God purposed for us to be treated and to treat others versus our version of what we and others deserve. If you want to know where a country’s heart or a person’s heart lies, check out it’s sexual mores. Sex was established as part of a covenant relationship. Our sexual conduct tells a lot about that relationship or lack thereof.

 
When a society becomes so wrapped up in sex, everything else becomes unimportant. Education, health, public works, prosperity, politics, all fall to the wayside. Who is concerned about stopping terrorism when sex is the focus? Who is concerned with worldwide persecution of girls and women when sex is the focus? Who cares about right and wrong if sex has become the focus?

 
Stop and think about what God is sharing with Ezekiel. Is it important when men commit incest with mothers? That’s what “uncovering your father’s nakedness” really means. We’re not talking about genitals being exposed here. It’s an idiom about a guy having sex with his father’s wife. Hey, that was a capital offense in Leviticus. Now, so what if a guy has sex with a woman during her menstrual period? It’s not about that. It’s about humbling someone else, meaning NONCONSENSUAL SEX. Um, that means RAPE. Forced. Like, she didn’t want to disobey the law but he didn’t give a hoot, because he wanted it right then.

 
Is it really so hard to refrain for a time? It’s like a fast. When did sex become more valuable than obeying God? I mean, you can’t wait seven days? Are you gonna die? Really? You don’t have that much self control or respect for God or even for her? I guess not if sex is the food you hunger after instead of panting after God like a deer for water.
Let’s not be blind. Israel was also guilty of adultery with the neighbor’s wife, sexual lewdness toward their daughters-in-law, and incest with their sisters. (Skip Moen) Do you see an interwoven theme of violence? Can you pick up on the sexual aggression. Do you see the same thing happening around us today. “I demand ecstasy. Who needs honor, respect, and love?” Let’s open our eyes. Let’s look at our own hearts. Let’s stop pointing fingers and change our hearts and humble ourselves and be world changers.

 
Despising God and despising others is a dangerous place to be. Maybe it’s time to humble ourselves and live like we love others or else we’ll go the same way as all these nations. Don’t think we’re not close. Listen to these statistics shared by Skip, “In America there is a sexual assault of some type every two minutes. 44% of the victims are under the age of 18. 29% of these victims were under 11. 27% of these victims were raped by a family member. One out of six women in America has been the victim of rape or attempted rape…But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Internet pornography allows fantasy sexual aggression without criminal repercussions. The statistics are hard to pin down, but this much seems clear. One porn site had 100 million page views per day. Another site reported 4.46 billion page views from 350 million unique visitors. And there are no limits on sexual behavior via the internet. Ezekiel’s indictment of Jerusalem pales in comparison.”

 
Can I really go blissfully along my way. When I see people kicking and hurting others because of who they voted for, can I not do anything? When I see people so afraid they’re going to be persecuted when it’s not even happened yet, crying in safe zones on college campuses, I’m thinking, maybe it’s because you despised people so much now you’re afraid they’re going to despise you as greatly as what was in your own heart. It doesn’t have to be. There will always be people who know God and know what it is to value another person despite what they believe and there will always be a God, who sent His Son, to be the Savior and Lord, of all who really want to personally know and experience the truth. There is love just waiting to be seen and experienced. Let’s get over ourselves, and humble ourselves before God and others.

Losing the Delight of Your Eyes

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“Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16)

 

I’m wondering if when we sit down and read Ezekiel if we really understand what it was like for him? What was it like for the people? What was reality? I mean, I ‘m here in chapter 24 within a month or two of reading in the mornings and meditating. But what about Ezekiel? When was the last time I stopped to think about how long You were taking Ezekiel through these things with You? Maybe today was the first time. And just to get to this point of Chapter 1 up to what’s happening in chapter 24 is a span of a man’s life of about 5 years. Imagine that. How would I feel after 5 years of being a prophet and going through all this? But how would I respond to this day in Ezekiel’s life, to this day when Ezekiel becomes the most personal picture of God He could ever imagine?

 

Oh, let the word of God come unto me. Really? Have you counted the cost? Do you really understand what that could mean? Are you really ready to stand for God no matter what? Ezekiel was. Ezekiel was fully Yours, Lord, in such a way that so greatly inspires me and tests me today. You know, I’ve read Your word lots of times. But I don’t remember this. I don’t remember this ever being significant before and I don’t understand how I ever could have read this before and not been stopped by it. This is hard stuff. This is the stuff of real faith, of make it or break it faith. This is that moment of love tested and love proved. This is purging and testing and creating the man or woman we really are and not just who we want to be. This is the making of a servant of God. This is true worship, true devotion.

 

It’s one thing to declare Your words and judgment on a people who deserve it. It’s easy for us to get smug, and holier than thou, and detached, and emotionless. It’s easy to get like Jonah who cared less if the “nasty Ninevites” got what was coming to them. Or if the Jews who had prostituted themselves from their God and involved themselves in atrocities paid the price. But You, God, don’t become detached and emotionless in the midst of it. In the midst of judgment You stay off Your pain for them because You must, not because You feel no pain. After all, here are the ones You would have brooded over and hidden under Your wings like a mother hen but they won’t have it.
Now here’s the clincher today. Ezekiel is setting up another picture of the judgment of the people. Jerusalem is like this nasty pot filled with nasty stuff and being purged over a fire. Right away, that word purge conjures up negative thoughts for me. But it shouldn’t. The Hebrew word, taher, means to be bright, to be pure. Let’s look at that kind of purity a little closer. It means physically sound, clear, unadulterated; Levitically uncontaminated; morally innocent or holy; at least according to Strong’s Concordance. It’s about ritual cleanness which prepares us to enter the presence of God undefiled. That’s what David was asking for when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) He understood that only God could prepare him for that. That’s still true for every one of us today.

 

It’s not a scary truth. Even Noah Webster defines purging as a positive thing. It’s “to cleanse or purify by separating and carrying off whatever is impure, heterogenous, foreign, or superfluous…to clear from guilt or moral defilement…to clear from accusation or the charge of a crime…to remove what is offensive; to sweep away impurities.” When did that become negative? Maybe when it became painful to do so because it means passing through the fire and passing the test.

 

Why would I think a prophet doesn’t have to pass through the fire to be purged? Why would only a renegade nation or person have to pass through? Don’t we all have to pass through because we all need to be purified by God His way? Who makes us holy? Who makes us pure? Who makes us sound? Does it just come easy and naturally? I think not. I think the Divine is not natural or easy at all. I think the Divine takes reliance on the Divine and not on me or my way or the prophet or his way or the will or strength of a nation and a people and their way. I think that purity, Divine purity, is a foreign affair that we have to learn the culture of and that even prophets like Ezekiel still had room to learn.

 

Here’s the clincher that hit me today. I was OK with judgment being foretold and the the image of the pot over the fire. But now You speak to Ezekiel these words: “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke: yet neither shall you mourn nor weep, neither shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16) Do you know what that means. To paint a picture for Ezekiel and the people, God was going to take from Ezekiel the wife that he so loved. And Ezekiel was going to have to withhold his mourning for her. Imagine that. “My faithful servant, I’m going to take your wife now, the one you love so much. In the midst of all your other suffering and the suffering to come, I’m taking her suddenly today. And you can’t cry or do the normal funeral stuff.” What? This is a loving God? Really?!

 

Yes. This is. This is a loving God who must serve justice as well as grace. You can’t separate them from who You are. This is a God who understands the pain of those you love rejecting You. This is a God who understands what it is to sacrifice that which You love the most for the good of those who don’t get it or value the sacrifice. This is a God who understands love but because we don’t, He gives us experiences where we can come to understand what He feels and what He has done for us.

 

So Ezekiel and his wife became a picture of God’s love. There is this tremendous poem written a long time ago by Barbara Miller called Ezekiel. It’s too long to share here, but I would if I could. This story of Ezekiel effected her too and she wrote a poem about Ezekiel and his wife and what it must have been like. And she shares this through the eyes of Ezekiel’s wife:
“If God had willed,
I would have gladly stayed; but we are His,
And it is sweet to do a little thing
For Him who loves us so.  He needeth me
To be a sign for Him, –my death to stand
A figure to my people, of the things
Which He will do on them, except they turn
And seek His face.  And I am so content
To die for this!  I could not speak for God,
As thou hast done so well; but I can die
For God, and for my people,– and for thee–
To aid in thy great work.
“Forbid me not;
Deny me not to Him. A day shall come
When He shall give His Dearest to the death,
For thee and me!” The clouds had parted now,
The love of God was shed abroad, within
My broken heart. I could not say Him , Nay;
Or question Him. I laid my sacrifice
Upon His altar, not denying Him
Mine only one.”

 

I really don’t know that Ezekiel’s wife understood about how Jesus, God’s own Son, His own beloved, would be the sacrifice for our sins or not. Did Abraham fully understand when he was willing to offer up his only son? Did Ezekiel understand? Am I supposed to always understand You God, or am I called to trust You, to listen and hear and act upon that hearing showing that no matter what, whether sacrifice of pain or joy unspeakable, You are God and Your plans for Your kingdom, for me and for every person on this planet is a plan for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope? (Jeremiah 29:11) Is that future and hope, is that welfare worth being purified? What is my future and my hope? Is it You? Because You alone are that future and that hope and if my future and my hope is anything else, I am lost and filthy and defiled from my purpose.
Could I respond like Ezekiel’s wife? Could I respond like Ezekiel? Any other response is wrong and not just wrong. Any other response is sin because it places something else before God. The twenty-four elders worshipping before Your throne remind us continually, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) Paul tells us in Colossians that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation and that “by Him all things were created; in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

 

So what does that matter? Through Him the fullness of God dwells and through Him God is reconciling us to Him. Jesus is our purifier. God makes known to us His love not only through words but through His actions. Am I called to less? Am I only to love God in words and not my actions? Is there a limit to my love? A price it won’t go beyond to pay? Did God have a limit for me? No! He makes known His love. And in demonstrating and not just telling us about His love, He makes us able to reciprocate that love through our lives. He enables us, in Him, to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” He strengthens us with all the power and might and endurance and patience it takes to go through the fire with Him so that we shine just like Him.

 

It’s this kind of stuff that makes us or breaks us as believers. This is the stuff that causes those around us to stop and rethink the status quo. Responding to God when it goes contrary to the world, causes people around us to stop and ask, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting like this?” (Ezekiel 24:19) Does it seem senseless or pointless? It’s not. It means more than we could ever imagine and maybe more than we’ll ever know on this side of heaven. But how far am I willing to demonstrate my love? All the way or only as far as it doesn’t hurt?
So, I thought I was finished with this yesterday, but I can’t get it off of my mind. And then I heard Psalm 62. I can imagine Ezekiel saying these words, just as David did, and I’ve heard myself cry them out. “My soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at ALL (emphasis my own) times; you people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah”. But then David doesn’t stop. He shares, “God has spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongs to God. Also unto You, O Lord, belongs mercy: for You render to every man according to his work.” What was Ezekiel’s work that it was worthy of the sacrifice of his beloved wife?

 

What if our work isn’t just about what we do or how we act? What if our work, our maaseh or maiseh is more about the story, the real story of who we are in God. That word, Maaseh Bereishit, is used when You God worked the creation of the universe. In Yiddish it’s the word for a story. Literally, it means an act or deed and ones from the word for making or doing. In Hebrew, stories are always synonymous with doing. In Greek I think of the word poeio which is the doing that flows out of being, like that of an artist or one who knows God. And I’m thinking that is the concept of work and doing and acting that David is talking about here.

 

Ezekiel knew God. He knew what it was to have God’s spirit flow through him. But he still had to trust in God. I am sure his heart told his soul to cry out to this God he trusted, to his rock and his salvation even in the midst of the loss of his wife, his beloved wife. Because maybe Ezekiel’s work was understanding and knowing and experiencing the heart of God. And when you finally start, I mean even start to understand and know and experience the heart of God, your actions and thoughts and hopes and dreams change. And your life can be turned upside down, and you can sacrifice your only son or beloved wife and give them back to the God who gave them to you in the first place, trusting, just trusting that God is God and You will still be God to those we love and those of us left behind. It’s what You do because it’s who You are. You render, You complete, You befriend and reciprocate and amend, and finish, and fulfill, and perfect and perform and prosper and restore and reward all that place themselves in You. It’s not just about prophets and kings. It’s about anyone trusting wholly in You so much that we place our whole being inside of You and accept You as You are. That’s when we receive You back as who You are. That’s the only deed, the only work that is acceptable in us, that let’s You do Your work, Your will, Your way in us, even if we must let go of our beloved. Because nothing should be more beloved than You.

 

So, Lord, what will I walk away with today? Will I remember this and will my life and thinking be changed by this? Where am I in You? Who is my most beloved? Is my heart so entwined with Yours that I know how You feel and that my actions flow from You? What story is my life displaying? Thank You, Lord, for the true story of love, commitment, and devotion that Ezekiel and You and even his wife display before us. May I love You that much, Lord. And may others be changed by the love that You have given me.

God, the Joy of my Desiring

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“And as soon as she saw them with her eyes, she doted upon them, and sent messengers unto them into Chaldea.” (Ezekiel 23:16)

 
Identifying the root of the problem is the beginning of fixing the problem. And if I’m honest, Aholah and Aholibah aren’t the only ones with the problem of seeing things and doting upon them. And if I’m even more honest, I’d admit that seeing things and doting upon them is a very tragic and dangerous rut to get stuck in.

 
Well, Aholah and Aholibah aren’t real people but they do set up a picture for us. And just as Samaria acted and Jerusalem acted, so can we as individuals. It starts somewhere before a whole people group turns. But what’s important is that here was Aholah, Samaria, who had been “birthed” and created to glorify the living God and to worship Him alone and yet she established her own tent and left His. And then there’s Jerusalem, or Aholibah, who had been “birthed” of God also and created to glorify Him and worship Him alone. There was His tent, His abode, His presence in the midst of her, and yet she turned her eyes and her heart elsewhere.

 
Here we see an age old problem that leads to death and separation and broken relationship. Think about it. Eve saw the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She saw it with her eyes. I bet she and Adam walked by that tree frequently. It wasn’t the first time she saw it but something different happened about how she was seeing it now that the serpent reintroduced it to her. Now she saw it and she doted upon it. Ezekiel uses the Hebrew word agab. It means “to breathe after, to love (sensually).” Noah Webster defines doting as being delirious, impaired intellect, where your mind wanders or wavers, silliness. He also equates it with being excessively in love, loving to excess or extravagance and actually shows Ezekiel 23 as an example.

 
So here was Eve, who became delirious and impaired, excessive in her desire for what she saw, just like Aholah and Aholibah, and just like I can. What? What was the problem with looking? Well, there didn’t used to be a problem with looking until the looking became twisted into craving what was not designed to be eaten. Truth is, God set a boundary in the garden and in our lives. It’s called trusting. In the garden it looked like the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He said, “You shall not eat of it: for in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Why? Because only God knows what is truly good for man and how to give it to him, and it’s our blessing to learn that and live in that goodness. But, it’s our free choice “to not to.”

 
So Adam, who was given this boundary first hand from the mouth of God, relayed that message of great import to Eve. And they were fully OK with that, until….the serpent enters. “You shall not surely die: for God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food…” What? God said it wasn’t good for food. How could something that you were not supposed to eat and that would surely bring death if you ate it, be good for food? Who’s word is true anyways? Why would what God didn’t make good for food become good for food because a serpent says so or because it looks good to you and because it would help you be a better wife or know more or whatever?

 
It’s not that this fruit wasn’t good. It was good. It was good for keeping God and life and who we are in a proper perspective. God already knows good and evil. God determined it already. I don’t get to decide on my own. God already determined the consequences of stepping out of His boundary of protection and provision. And it’s not just some mandate or a rule or a precept or a concept. It’s just the way it is. In God is life. Out of God is death. Why? Because You are LIFE. In God is provision and wholeness and fullness and peace and love and joy and fulfilled desire. Out of God is chaos and emptiness and unfulfillment. That’s what the tree was all about. It still is today because God hasn’t changed.

 
Eve, Aholah, and Aholibah, and you and I were created to be enthralled and loved on by this living God. We were created to be able to love Him back as He loved us. We were created to worship Him which is far more than doting. When God told us, “You shall worship no other god,” (Exodus 34:14) He wasn’t just implying that we weren’t to bend our knees or prostrate ourselves before anyone or anything else. Shachah means that but the Hebrew perspective takes it deeper. It’s about worshipping God in accord with His instructions on worshipping Him.

 
Now, don’t give me this, “Isn’t that expecting too much?” attitude. Let’s just look at things in a simple earthly way here. I’m married. I have a husband. There are things that portray to me that my husband loves and cherishes me. Most of those things have to do with how he pays attention to my heart and hears the real me and how he responds to that. Like, if I say I really hate something and that thing would be all he ever gave me, like it was his special gift to me, I certainly wouldn’t feel very loved or valued. But, if on the other hand, I said I really loved something, and that was what he pursued, I would know he listened and cared about my heart. I mean, a new vacuum might be handy and helpful around home, but if I’m the one spending most of my day or time home from work doing that kind of labor, it’s not showing that you understand my heart. Taking me away somewhere, where I could just appreciate being without working or deciding, would show you knew my heart. Nope, the vacuum won’t do it.

 
So, we see things and think, “Oh, this will help me serve God better or help this person better or it will help me know more.” So we choose to buy the vacuum and give it back to God like some great gift. Actually, what I’ve really done is bowed down before my self and taken Him off the throne. My doting, my desire just became an idol and I started worshipping it and took God off the pedestal. It’s the same thing that happened with Cain and King Saul. It’s not just a problem for women.

 
I’m not free to decide how I want to worship. God says, “This is what pleases Me. This is where a relationship with Me and in Me is found.” Do I worship Him as He says or do I listen to my voice or the voice of another instead? It’s not just about worshipping the Right One but about worshipping the Right Way. The object and the method matter.
That makes me wonder, if this word for worship, shachah, means “to bow down, to prostrate oneself,” why I don’t do that more? If that’s how You tell me I should worship You, maybe that’s how I ought to start. Maybe if I were on my knees more or on my face more before You, I wouldn’t start looking at things the wrong way because I’d be seeing You from and in the right perspective. Maybe I’ve already been guilty of doting and idolatry by simply not bowing down before You in the first place.

 
In Deuteronomy You remind us, “You shall not bow yourself to them nor serve them, for I, Jehovah your God, am a jealous God.” What would turn my heart to do this? Pride? Arrogance? And then, what and whom do I labor after? Who am I really serving? Is my work dedicated to You? Then it’s worship. If it’s not, it’s dedicated to serving false gods. Work and worship go hand in hand. And worship isn’t doting. Worship is knowing and living life fully in that knowing by following through with doing that flows from that knowing.

 
The truth is that it is for our own good that we shall have no other gods beside You. It’s in our best interest to have You as our “exclusive sovereign.” God doesn’t just want what’s good for us. He wants the best for us. I can respond like Eve, or Aholah, or Aholibah, or Cain, or King Saul, and I have, and settle for what seems good instead. I can think that I know what’s better for me than God. But the truth is that without God, I am infirm, incapacitated, and dependent. To ignore God’s best, is to do so at my peril.

 
But the good news is that God can bring the best to pass in my life. It’s His divine purpose for each of us. It might not seem like the best at the time, but it is. It’s what will best equip me for “serving and worshipping Him.” If I want the best, I will choose to reject the forbidden fruit. I’ll run and cling to the One who wants the best for me and is able to give me the best. And if and when my eyes are diverted, I can throw away my pride and arrogance and fall down at His feet like I should have in the first place and get back to worship, true worship. I don’t have to keep my eyes on the lie. I can get them back on the truth. I can stop doting and return to worship.

 
I need to stop forgetting that You are the one who said, “I am the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:2) You were my God before I was ever Yours. Well, I mean, You were the One who claimed me before I ever even knew I needed You. You chose me. You drew me to You. You adopted me. You are my God. Mine. And I am Yours.

 
Because You are my God, I can live through anything because I know I can trust You and You will be forever constant. I can live through anything because I know that You will fully protect me and bless me. That doesn’t mean bad stuff won’t happen. It means You’ll always be there and give me the best of You. You’ll always stand with me and for me. You are my God. I don’t have to be afraid. I don’t even have to be in control because You are and You do it better than me. You are for me. You said it and You mean it and You just are. So, maybe it’s time I started desiring the fruit of You more than anything else. Maybe it’s time that You became better than life itself to me. Maybe it’s time that I fell in love with Your authority because it means falling in love with You, the God who loved me first. I need You, God. But You already knew that. After all, that’s why You declared, “I am the Lord your God.”

 
Satan is such a twister. “For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5) Why is it so important for us to know and experience everything for ourselves? Why would I want to experience shame and hardship? Why can’t I just trust? Why do I think it’s more important to know what God knows than to know God? Why is it more important to experience what God experiences than to experience God Himself? How could I ever think to experience all that God knows when He is my creator and I am a mere creation? Why isn’t it sufficient to revel in Him? Did you ever come to the conclusion that being god is just too weighty? I have. I’m so sorry that door was ever opened.

 
Here’s what’s real. “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.” (Song of Solomon 7:10) Who can explain the intensity of God’s love for us? Not me. But that’s the kind of love I want to be wrapped in and that’s the kind of love I want to return. Which somehow brings me to the hymn, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
 Holy wisdom, love most bright;
 Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
  Soar to uncreated light.
 Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
 With the fire of life impassioned,
 Striving still to truth unknown,
 Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
 Hark, what peaceful music rings;
 Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
 Drink of joy from deathless springs.
 Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
 Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
 Thou dost ever lead Thine own  
In the love of joys unknown.

 

 

Maybe this is where my eyes ought to be, trusting in Your knowledge and not striving for my own. Maybe it would be good to spend more time bowing before You in worship then trying to be all I can be. Maybe then that would open the door for me allowing You to be all that You are. Maybe then You would truly be God, the joy of my desiring.

You Can’t Fake God Culture

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Photo credit to someone on the internet.

 

“And I said to them, ‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.’” Ezekiel 20:7

So here come the elders to “inquire of the Lord” by coming before Ezekiel. They sit down with him to “seek” God. It’s this Hebrew word darash. It means “to search,” “to seek,” “to examine,” and “to investigate.” God says, in Jeremiah 29:13-14, “And you shall seek Me, and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found of you…” And that is great news. But something is not right here.

What’s not right? The elders have come to inquire, but God “will not be inquired of” by them. Didn’t You say that if people would seek You, they would find You? But how can they find You if You don’t let them seek You? Or was something missing here? Does everyone who looks, find? Or is there something about our looking that determines the fruitfulness of our finding?

You actually established a condition in Jeremiah. Let me flip flop it. When you shall search for Me with all your heart, then you shall seek Me, and find Me, and I will be found of you…Were these elders searching for You with all their heart? Remember, heart or lebab, isn’t just that mushy-feely thing that pumps blood and oozes out emotions. In Hebrew thinking it’s that part of us that feels, thinks, and wills. Therefore it’s the determiner of our actions and the truth of our actions. God knows our hearts, those desperately wicked things that we think are so clean and tidy, that we sit before Ezekiel like we’re all that, seeking God’s interests, when our lives have been anything but about God. And the truth is that God won’t let us fake our seeking Him.

God knows what is in our hearts and on our minds and the way our will is leaning, whether towards His will or not. He sees the secret rebellion that others may miss. He knows what our eyes are focused on, where our heart’s allegiance lies, how truly dirty we’ve made ourselves, and what we really worship. That’s why He alone can say, “Cast away every one of you the abominations of your eyes, and stop defiling yourselves with all these idols around you. I am the Lord your God. It’s Me. Know Me. Acknowledge Me. Stop faking it.”

See, the eye is from the Hebrew word ayin. It’s thought of as a fountain, a fountain that can flow with life or death. We can choose to have or be an evil eye or a good eye. I can be stingy or giving. I can be evil or good. I can choose my own way or God’s. That’s a dangerous thing if we choose wrongly. You would think the choice would be easy. I mean, who wouldn’t choose generosity, or goodness, or God, right? Well, obviously not the elders and obviously not me all the time either.

Do I think I don’t need this warning? Do I not have to be careful of the abominations of my own eyes? What things that are shiqquts- disgusting and filthy and idolatrous to You Lord, am I focusing my attention on? Oh, I’m not looking at bad stuff. I don’t do pornographic stuff. Well that’s good. But what I see about God and what I see God doing, do I really see and understand and obey? Because that’s a part of Hebrew seeing. A good eye is one that sees and acts appropriately on what they see. It’s the spiritual light of God flowing through our lives. Is it? Or is darkness flowing from me instead? Am I relying on my own strength or am I relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to allow me to see and understand and know and act upon what I behold of the radiance of Your presence? Or do I just sit before You with my inquiries designed after my own desires and plans? There’s a big difference.

It’s so easy to place the blame on God. But these elders had eyes to see. Their hearts led them to choose their paths. It was a matter of will, only it wasn’t truly Your will they were seeking. Their hearts weren’t panting after You like the deer pants for water. They wanted Your benefits but weren’t surrendered to You in the first place. They wanted Your benefits but weren’t devoted to the ways of the Beneficial One. They didn’t want to pay the price to be wholly Yours. They had things they didn’t want to let go of. They chose to hold them closer than You.

It’s a lack of humility.  It’s thinking that I can tell You, God, my Creator, what to do. It’s loosing touch with reality.  It’s coming to You like it’s our little pow-wow time and I’m Your equal. Well, I’m not. In all reality, I need You, I desperately need You. I need You because it’s so easy for my good eye to be taken over by my evil eye and for me to become a slave to sin instead of to You and get caught up in the evil impulse without even realizing it. Rashi said, “The heart and the eyes are the spies of the body: they lead a person to transgress; the eyes see, the heart covets, and the body transgresses.” Yes, even I need to be wary of the abominations, the detestable things of my own eyes.

So, now that I see that, do I really understand Your desire? Just a little earlier in Ezekiel 20 You let them know how they had fallen. You remind them and us of Leviticus 18:26, “But you shall keep My statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.” This is not some new idea here. You warned against this antithesis to Your worship, this disgustingness that we could fill our lives with, this rebellion against You and our created purpose. What didn’t the Israelites understand? What didn’t they see? What don’t I see? Do I not understand what an abomination is? Do I not understand what idolatry is? What about them? What excuse do any of us have to not see and know and understand?

This is bad stuff. I better get it or it will be the ruin and death of me and those around me. Let’s look more at God’s words to Ezekiel. “But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness: they didn’t walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned…because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols…I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey My rules, and keep My Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” Later God says the problem was “their eyes were after their fathers idols.” See, their eyes weren’t really on God. Where are mine really? Let’s stop and think about whether they really had a right after all this, to come and sit before God and ask Him what they wanted? Really? Because in verse 31, this is how they were busy living their lives: “For when you offer your gifts, when you make your sons to pass through the fire, you pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.” Come on, can I really run around and offer my children as burnt sacrifices before Molech and then come sit down before You? Who am I kidding? Where is my heart? It’s where my actions and thoughts are.

Now, don’t give me that lousy excuse that God’s rules and regulations are too hard and too many. Because the word for rules here is mishpat. And it’s not about something that governs our conduct. It’s not some enforceable measure over our behavior. It’s not something I do because some authority, God in this instance, makes me do it or else. God’s rules are about “exemplars.” This is the way that people live who are a part of God, a part of His culture. It’s why I can expect certain things of my Filipino friends, because their culture is so deep and important to them. Do you think someone has to make them be or act Filipino? Are you kidding me? They are so proud to be Filipino because of the beauty of their culture. Who has to force them to be Filipino, to be who they are? Are you really going to tell me, that if I realize who I am in Christ, God will have to force me to act like His? You have to be kidding!

Mishpat or rules here aren’t about morality. It’s about the character of God and life of God in Christ in us. Remember, God said, “As I live…” He is alive and His character and all that He is and does lives on and He designed it to live on in and through us, His created masterpieces. If I am in the culture of God, I act like God. If am in the culture of Christ, I act like Christ because I am His. His values become my values. What He embraces, I embrace. His behavior becomes my behavior. My life demonstrates my values. My God does not have to regulate my behavior if I value Him.

But abominations are those things that are offensive to the culture. I mean, if you are outside the culture, it won’t look offensive to you, but if you’re inside the culture it will. See, God defines our culture in Him. It’s His culture first. And He determines what is an abomination within His culture and community. If we can’t see that, our own choices will punish us and we’ll condemn ourselves.

Just look around us in the culture of this world. It’s so different than God’s culture. God asks again, through Jeremiah, “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Ba’al, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say ‘We are delivered!’- only to go on doing all these abominations?” Maybe we need to be careful of what we’re trusting in. Maybe there are more of us trusting in words instead of trusting in God. Maybe there are more of us who need to come to God on Your terms instead of on ours or the worlds and maybe then, once we start searching for the truth in You with all our heart, soul, mind, strength, and will, we’ll finally really find You and be found by You. Maybe it’s time to want Your culture no matter the cost so that we can really find You. Because there is no deliverance and no salvation in anyone else or anywhere else. Outside of Your culture, outside of You it’s all empty words with no meat. Salvation is a “dynamic relation” (Skip Moen) and if I haven’t got that dynamic relation that’s lived out in You overflowing culture through me, I haven’t got anything at all.

Strange Fire

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“‘Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 14:14)

 

The Lord is still pronouncing judgment on His people. Now, some of the leaders of Israel were coming to “inquire” of him before Ezekiel. And it appears as though God was asking, “Why? Why are they bothering?” Is that a strange question for God to ask? Or would that make sense if God new that all they wanted to offer was “strange fire” anyways?

 

Here is a God who knows man’s heart better than man knows it. That means that You, God, know our feelings, our intents, our thoughts, our motives, and how our will is inclined. And here is what you had to say about these leaders, “…these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face.” So, if these men weren’t coming before God to submit and agree with Him, why were they coming? That’s what You were asking. “Should I be inquired of at all by them?”

 

These leaders who should have lived lives of submission were anything but submitted, they were anything but obedient. They had set up their idols in their hearts. Do I know what that means? There is actually a New Testament warning against allowing this in my life today. “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) So, what’s the danger of idols? When I worship an idol, I’m attempting by whatever it takes, to try to shape the world according to my own will and my own desires. Think about it. Why would I placate a god? So that it treats me the way I want to be treated. Idol worship is a way to manipulate and control the world around me. Idol worship is the opposite of submission. It’s antagonistic to God.

 

But I would never worship an idol.  Really? The minute I try to control things and take God out of the picture I become an idol worshipper. My desire becomes my idol. I become my idol. My desire becomes my stumbling block. I become my own reason for falling. And I don’t even realize the perversity of it; I don’t realize how twisted my thinking and actions have become.

 

I can’t help but think about God only delivering Noah, Daniel, and Job. And why? Because of what their lives demonstrated, by the righteousness that they chose to live in, that came from the depths of their souls and flowed out into real life. It was the righteousness that flows from God and emanates from Him and they chose to uphold it. It wasn’t forced upon them. In a world where they were allowed to choose who to submit to, they chose to submit to Your ways, God. They chose to be under Your manipulation rather than manipulate the world around them. They trusted You more than themselves.

 

Maybe we think we can come up with and create our own righteousness but that’s a total lie. Psalm 103:6 tells us that “the Lord performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed.” But that doesn’t just mean that God does good things. The Hebrew ‘ose(h) tsedaqot is about making righteousness. See, everything that He does is righteous. He is the originator of righteousness and anything righteous came from Him first.

 

And then we come to Psalm 106:3 which says, “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” How can we do that? Well, I certainly can’t do it without submitting to the righteous One. And I certainly can’t do that if I make something else my idol. It would seem that if I want to do this, I would need to be in constant communication with the One who is Righteousness. Doesn’t God tell me that I can speak with Him any time? Even in the midst of my sin, doesn’t He tell me to come to Him and confess my sins? Can’t I respond to Him anytime? Can’t I answer Him? Can’t I converse with Him? Or am I just coming to try to placate Him and manipulate Him?

 

 
Was it that the elders couldn’t come before Him? Or was the truth that they would come before Him but without any desire to communicate? Their answers were in their idols. Their hearts had already chosen sides. They were in control and there was no way they would surrender that control to God. When we stop communicating with God it’s like we remove ourselves from reality. It’s like we already refuse to exist.

 

 
Maybe if these elders were more like the poor widow, their story would have been so different. Luke 21:2 tells of Jesus watching “a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins” into the temple offering. The coins had little value. Each coin was worth maybe 1/4 of a penny. So how could Jesus say that she had put in more than all the rest of the people? Could it be because she placed more than coins in the offering? By that act, was she placing her submission in this God that she trusted utterly would care for her even though she had given everything? Was she done with manipulation? Was she ready to submit under the hand of her mighty God who is truly able to save? Is that kind of faith what dominated her life?

 

 

What does the story of this widow tell us? Remember, a widow in Jesus’ day had no human support, no property rights, and was left to fend for herself. Who would take care of her? She could choose to manipulate people or she could submit to and rely on God.
But that’s not all this tells me. This tells me that Jesus, that God, notices those in need. Of all the people He saw her. It wasn’t about her 100% donation. It was about her righteousness demonstrated by her heart of submission. Let’s think about this. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 tells how when we see someone struggling, “ you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Why would He say that? Because His righteousness is a righteousness that notices and meets needs.  As a matter of fact, righteousness is “more valuable than worship rituals.” Micah reminds us, ”With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And Hosea reminds us, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” And Proverbs 21:3 declares, “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” So let’s not think it was the widows sacrifice. God noticed the heart behind her sacrifice. Without that, her coins would have left a hollow reverberation.

 

 
Do I notice the things the Lord notices like that? Do I act upon them like He does? Do I just want to placate God? Or am I submitted fully to Him clinging to His care for me? Do I have any idols in my heart that I need to repent from and tear down and utterly destroy? Am I somehow choosing to separate myself from You, Lord? The truth is, I am responsible for me. I alone can choose whether to live dependently in and under Your righteousness or by my own false self-righteousness. I can choose my idols like the elders. Or I can choose You. Each choice comes with it’s foretold consequences. It’s not like we haven’t been educated. Maybe it’s just that some of us refuse to be taught. I want to learn, Lord, from You and of You. I don’t want to hold on stubbornly to my idols. I want to hold on stubbornly to You. You give us the means to deliver our lives by righteousness in You. So let me be found in You displaying that righteousness which is of You and not of me.