Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 34-36 and Revelation 4-5

Ezekiel 34  Ezekiel prophesies against the shepherds [leaders spiritual and temporal] of Israel’s people who “feed themselves” instead of feeding their flocks. They have failed to make the weak stronger; they have not cared for the sick or wounded sheep. So they have scattered and have become prey for wild animals. The shepherds will be called to account, but also the Lord will not rely on them any more. He says, “I am going to look after my flock myself and keep all of it in view . . . I myself will show them where to rest . . .I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them” (34:11-16).
As for his sheep, the Lord shall judge between them. This is the language Jesus is drawing on when he speaks of separating the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25. And then it goes on to say, “I mean to raise up one shepherd, my servant David, and to put him in charge of them and he will pasture them; he will pasture them and be their shepherd. I, Yahweh, will be their God, and my servant David shall be their ruler” (34:23). Remember that Ezekiel is prophesying in the 6th c. BC, long after David’s time.

This has to be some of the most important Old Testament language in terms of understanding the mission of Jesus and the significance his disciples saw in his presence among them. David was long gone from Israel’s history, but the promise made by God to David’s “House” in 2 Samuel 7 is invoked here as a reminder that the Messiah would be of this same House.

Ezekiel 35 – This prophesy against the mountains of Seir or Edom precedes a similar oracle concerning the mountains of Israel, mountains that Edom tried to take over along with all of Palestine after 587. The Lord will devastate Edom for things they have done and said about Israel, for slandering Yahweh and rejoicing when Israel was reduced to ashes.

Ezekiel 36 – This oracle is to the mountains of Israel and according to the footnote was likely issued after 587. In this moment of complete desolation Yahweh affirms his eternal commitment to his people. He says to the mountains of Israel that they will again grow trees and branches that bear fruit for God’s people who will one day return to their lands. God will multiply the population living on the mountains and will raise the cities up once again. He will make them even more prosperous than they were before.

People of the House of Israel defiled the land with their conduct (killing babies, worshipping idols) and they have offended God by their conduct in captivity as well, but He will bring them back and cleanse them:

            I shall give you a new heart,
            and put a new spirit in you;
            I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies
            and give you a heart of flesh instead.

            I shall put my spirit in you
            and make you keep my laws,
            and sincerely respect my observances.

            You will live in the land, which I gave your ancestors;
            You shall be my people,
            And I will be your God (36:24-28).

Revelation 4 – A series of prophetic visions follow here: He has a vision of the door of heaven opening and a voice like a trumpet saying, “’Come up here: I will show you what is to come in the future.’” He sees “the One” seated on a throne in heaven” (4:3). It is not an anthropomorphic vision but one of gems and sparkling rainbows and such.

The central throne is surrounded by 24 thrones for the 24 elders who sit in white robes. There are seven flaming lamps between God and the circle of elders. They represent the seven “spirits of God” or angels of his presence.

Before the throne, there are also four creatures with many eyes – a lion (majesty), a bull (strength), a man (wisdom) and an eagle (flight) – each of which has six wings. And there is a sea of glass that looks like crystal between the prophet and the central image.

The note says that from the time of Irenaeus, the four creatures have been seen as representing the gospel writers. The image in Ezekiel is similar in some ways but also unique. There are no wheels here by each animal and the animals in Ezekiel are “of human form” with only four wings – two touching the wings of the next “animal” and two covering it. The vision in Ezekiel 10 is also quite different though some similarities can be found.

The four never stopped singing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty; he was, he is and his is to come’” (4:8), and the twenty-four elders honor the Lord for “He” “made all the universe and it was only by [His] will that everything was made and exists’” (4:11).

Revelation 5 – There is a scroll in God’s right hand written on front and back and sealed with seven seals that cannot be opened by anyone – there is no one worthy. This makes John cry, but an elder reassures him that the “Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed” and will be able to open them (5:5).

The Lamb before the throne has seven horns (strength) and seven eyes (omniscience). Everyone is prostrate before him. “You were sacrificed with your blood. You bought men for God of every race, language, people and nation and made them a line of kings and priests, to serve our God and to rule the world”(5:9). Everything that lives praises him.

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