Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 10-11 and John 11

Ezekiel 10 – The prophet sees another very hard-to-follow vision: above the vault, over the cherubs’ heads, something that looks like a sapphire and above this a throne. The man in white (the vision of chapter 8) is told to take burning coal from between the cherubs and scatter it over Jerusalem.

The man goes into the courtyard of the Temple and a cloud fills the inner court. “The glory of Yahweh rose off the cherubs,” and the court is filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. There are four wheels to the side of the cherubs – glittering like chrysolite  (a greenish, clear gem).

The vision is complicated – it is of the angelic cherubim and wheels. “The cherubs spread their wings and rose from the ground to leave, and as I watched, the wheels rose with them. They paused at the entrance to the east gate of the Temple of Yahweh, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. This was the creature that I had seen supporting the God of Israel beside the river Chebar, and I was now certain that these were cherubs. Each had four faces and four wings and what seemed to be human hands under their wings . . . Each moved straight forward” (10:19-22).

Cherubs in Jewish thinking were angelic, spiritual beings that served the one God. Investigation of the origin of who and what they were in Jewish thought led to my reading about the entire angelic hierarchy. It was interesting and eye-opening. The Wikipedia article I started with directed me to a site that described the kabbalistic version; kabbalah is a school of Jewish thought that is very mystical. This is the hierarchy described:
·       Seraphim – the highest – are caretakers of God’s throne. They regulate the movement of the heavens and emanate a light so bright no one can look at it. Four seraphim surround God’s throne. They each have six wings – two cover the face, two the middle and two cover the feet.  Archangels Michael and Lucifer are among the Seraphim.
·       Cherubim – Next down the chain, beyond God’s throne, the cherubim guard light and stars. They have four faces – a man, an ox, a lion and an eagle. They guard Eden and the throne of God. Gabriel is one
·       Ophanim – Wheels/Thrones – beryl-colored wheel within wheel, the rims of which are covered with eyes. Also called Lords of Flame.
·       Thrones – symbols of God’s justice and authority
·       Dominions – keep the order of the cosmos
·       Principalities – guard nations/countries and are concerned with politics and war
·       Powers – bearers of conscience and keepers of history. They are also angels of birth and death and are concerned with ideology, philosophy, theology, etc. They are the only order created after the fall.
·       Archangels – chief angels (messengers) Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
·       Angels – the lowest order and the closest to man

It was interesting looking into this because New Testament references to “principalities and powers” were never something I associated with angels and archangels.

I have tried to look up the origin of the angelic hierarchy idea, but it is really not clear where it came from. Some say from Assyria or the Canaanites or just the Mesopotamian area generally. There may have been a common source for ideas about this set of angels and powers, but I can’t find anything simple to explain. Clearly, though, they are embedded in the story from the very beginning.

It is two cherubs who are given the task of guarding the gate to Eden. Satan is there is the story, but we are not given any narrative in the Bible itself to explain his presence.  Seems to me the important thing is they were seen as part of the heavenly court. God was not ALONE before the creation of animals and humans. And they seem to serve as guardians of both Paradise and the Sanctuary of the Temple. Perhaps they are evoked here in Ezekiel because they continue to guard God’s Holy Temple and city even when it seems to have been subjected to the desecration of the Neo-Babylonians.

Ezekiel 11 – Here the prophet repeats the promise of God to return those who have been exiled from the holy city. They will be gathered and returned where they will cleanse the city of its horrors.

I find it interesting what is said in verse 16: “I have sent them far away among the nations . . .and for a while I have been a sanctuary for them in the country to which they have gone” (11:17). This idea of God Himself being a sanctuary for his people will soon form the heart of the New Covenant. We do not need to be in the holy city or in the Temple there to be sheltered in God’s presence.

Meanwhile the cherubs and their wheels transport the “glory of the God of Israel” to the mountain east of the city, where it will hover until it is able to be returned.

John 11 - The raising of Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Mary and Martha. Mary is said to be the one “who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair” (11:2), but that story does not appear in John until chapter 12, and the Jerusalem Bible note here indicates that John has confused this Mary with the woman of Luke 7:37.

The sisters send an urgent message to Jesus about Lazarus’ illness, but he does not come for two days. “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (11:4). They return when he is dead. He actually finds upon his return that Lazarus has been dead four days.

Martha goes out to meet him, expressing faith that even now he can save Lazarus. Jesus assures her that he will rise again, and she thinks he is talking about the “last day” (11:24). Jesus responds that he is “the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (11:25-26). She tells him she believes him and also believes that he is “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (11:27).

Martha goes home and tells her sister that Jesus, “the teacher,” is back and wants to see her. She goes to him, followed by a number of Jews who were consoling her. When she sees Jesus, she too expresses the belief that Lazarus would not have died had Jesus only been there. The weeping of Mary and the Jews with her move Jesus (11:33). He asks where Lazarus is. He is weeping too. He is “greatly disturbed” when he comes to the tomb. He orders the stone taken away. Then he looks upward and says, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me” (11:42). Then he orders Lazarus to “come out!” (11:43) He comes out with the burial cloths on him.

Many believe, but some go to the Pharisees and tell on him.  They call a meeting.  They are worried that the Romans will come and “destroy both our holy place and our nation” (11:48). Caiaphas—high priest that year—tells them it is better to have one man die for the people than for the nation to be destroyed. He implies that Jesus will not only die for the nation but “to gather into one the dispersed children of God” (11:52). Is this meant to be some ironic recognition of the universal saving role Jesus will play, ironic only because the truth is on the lips of one of the men responsible for his lynching?

Jesus goes to the town of Ephraim near the wilderness and remains there.  The Passover is near, and many are going to Jerusalem.  They look for Jesus and wonder if he will come. The chief priests and Pharisees have let people know that they want to arrest him.

This is the ultimate story of Christ’s power over the flesh and our mortal existence.  It’s interesting that this amazing story only appears in one of the four gospels.  The less dramatic one about Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha seems to have been more widely told.  But the story reinforces the major theme of John’s approach to the gospel – that Jesus – from the beginning of creation on – is the source of life, both spiritual and material, and He is the One who has power to raise the dead to life.  The quotes I have included above speak volumes about what this fact can mean for our individual lives if it is apprehended as a spiritual reality available to all of us as friends and beloved of Jesus.

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