Summary: We are called to give God the best of our talents, a fair amount of time and a tenth or more of our gross income. Have we turned our backs on God? Will we get to mourn our misfortune along the banks of a foreign river?
July 23 2006 --- 7th Sunday after Pentecost ---- Ezekiel 2:1-5
Grace Mercy and peace from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The prophet Ezekiel is the type of man that I enjoy reading about. He lived during a time of international upheaval. The balance of power in the area we call the holy land was changing. The Assyrian Empire to the north was falling apart because of military action from the Babylonians. The Egyptians from the south were trying to re-assert their influence over the area. Battles were fought -- King Josiah of Judah -- all that was left of the former great Kingdom of Israel --- was killed in battle and Judah became a vassal state of Babylon.
Soon Judah rebelled and Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon sent forces to quell the rebellion . This happened 597 years before the birth of Jesus. Nebuchadnezzar took about 10,000 of the Judeans and exiled them in Babylon. This group of exiles joined a group that was previously taken. Ezekiel left with the second group. Daniel was taken with the first group. The exiles taken were generally the most capable of the citizens -- those most likely to rebel if left in the conquered land.
Zedekiah was made another vassal King of Judah. He too rebelled leading to the complete destruction of the city of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonians. Even more exiles were take at this time and the former kingdom was laid waste. This occurred 586 years before the birth of Jesus. Babylon dominated the international scene until it was crushed by Cyrus the Persian in 539 BC.
Ezekiel received his call in 593 BC -- in Babylon and seven years before the destruction of the city and temple. He was thirty years old at this time and was active for 22 years.
Let’s read Ezekiel’s words again: 1 ( God ) said to me, "Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you." 2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said: "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. 4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ’This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ 5 And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.
Life for the exiles was confusing. They missed their city, their temple, their ritual. They were not sure they could even worship God in this strange place. They had little experience with public worship other than Temple ritual and sacrifices. This is the period in Jewish history when synagogues were established and other worship forms were developed.
Psalm 137:1 gives insight into their feelings --- By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
The temptation to give up the ancestral faith was strong. To assimilate into the local population was an attractive alternative. Those who turned their backs on the God of Israel and merged with the locals tended to prosper.
Ezekiel in one aspect was more fortunate than most of us. In the first Chapter of the book of Ezekiel he received a powerful vision followed by his clear call. Most of us get a gentle whisper --- a nudge from the Holy Spirit -- sometimes a daily nudge --that we manage to ignore.
Ezekiel was called for a difficult task. He could have avoided the assignment completely or just basked in the glory of the vision for awhile. His assignment was to make it abundantly clear that by turning their backs on God and worshiping the detestable gods of the pagans, they brought this national catastrophe on themselves. ------- Not a popular message. ------ For seven years he preached to his fellow Jews the bad news . Jerusalem will fall, the temple will be destroyed and they were not going home.. After the destruction of the temple, he preached consoling words of hope for his people. They would experience revival, restoration and a glorious future as the kingdom of God in the world.
Ezekiel was in many ways the glue that kept the Jews together. By answering the call he was permitted to experience the joy of working for the Lord. The Lord, however, was not dependant on Ezekiel, He could have called another prophet. ( Esther 4:14)
Enough history! Lets focus on the call.
The Bible is full of call stories, Saul of Tarsus also named Paul, and Moses are two examples of many. Moses did all he could do to try and talk his way out -- He pleaded ” O Lord please send someone else.” A similar situation occurs in in Acts 9: The Lord comes to Ananias in a vision and Ananias is sent to restore Paul’s sight. A clear call for Ananias -- He responds “but Lord” I have heard about terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem. He has arrest warrants for every believer in Damascus. I think we can safely use our “sanctified imaginations” here. Ananias was probably thinking please don’t sent me on this suicide mission.