God returns – Saturday, 20th week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 43:1-7a

We complete our study of the prophet Ezekiel based on the texts that have been read at the Eucharistic celebrations on weekdays, over the last two weeks. This final, great vision of Ezekiel is recorded in chapters 40 through 48 and is a conclusion for the book as a whole. These chapters fulfil the promises made in Ezekiel 20: 40-44 and 37:23-28 in which God promised that his sanctuary would be restored. In choosing this text the lectionary brings to a close the book of Ezekiel.

This text is almost the last prophecy that was dated, and was made many years after the fall of Jerusalem (the fourteenth year after the city was captured). Ezekiel insisted that the source of this rather long prophecy was God himself. Yahweh was also the source of the minute and sometimes strange detail of this prophecy. The audience for this vision was primarily the house of Israel. It was most relevant to them as part of God’s promised future restoration.

The first stage of the visions (40;1- 43:27) is a guided tour of the new temple ending with the description of the return of God’s glory. Ezekiel must remember every detail of this description and bring this to the people who will execute it. We hear of the outer dimension of the new temple to be situated on Mount Zion. It will have its gates on the northern, southern and eastern side with an outer court and inner court. The temple is then described in great detail. Now that the temple had been described, it was necessary to signify that the building was accepted by God.

In chapter 11:23, God departed from the temple from the eastern gate and now he returns for the very gate that he left . Without the glory of God, Ezekiel’s temple was nothing more than a building. With the glory of God, it was a sacred place, a habitation for God and the radiance of His presence. As Ezekiel experienced in his vision, the glory of God had an aspect that could be heard and seen. It sounded like the awesome and inspiring sound of a great waterfall (the sound of many waters). It looked massive and radiant (the earth shone).

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A dead nation restored to life – Friday, 20th week – Ezekiel 37:1-14

The passage summarises Ezekiel’s mission to the exiles. He is to preach the word of God thus bringing new life to a dead Israel symbolised by the very, very dry and bleached bones scattered in the valley. Ezekiel was brought out in the Spirit of the Lord, that is, in vision, and set down in the valley which was full of human bones. These bones represented the total destruction of Israel by the attacking army of Babylon.

The people represented by these bones were not only dead; they were also disgraced. In the thinking of ancient Israel (and the ancient Near East), an unburied corpse with exposed remains was a shocking disgrace to the dead. These bones were obviously denied proper burial.

After this grisly tour, the God who knows how long these bodies have been exposed asks Ezekiel a straightforward but stupefying question: “Can these bones live?” (verse 3a). Clearly, all the evidence is to the contrary; after all, these bones have been dead for so long that they are now so dry, so brittle. Ezekiel responded to God’s question with the only hope that could be found, saying “O Lord GOD, You know.” Ezekiel had no hope in the bones, but he did have hope in God.

God now asks Ezekiel to speak life to these dead bones. By all outward observation this was a foolish act. But God promised to fill the dry bones with breath. He promised to bring flesh upon those bones and cover them with skin. God would make the once dead and dry bones live. Ezekiel was not asked to create life from nothing; it was the restoration of life to something that had been long dead. Ezekiel obeyed the Lord and the bones came together, bone to bone and began to assemble themselves into skeletons.

The previous instruction of the Lord left the valley full of revived, activated bodies. The bones were full of activity, yet they lacked breath. The second prophecy to the bones brings life and strength. Ezekiel was told to call upon the spirit, that these bones may live. The breath of God came into the reanimated bodies, and they stood upon their feet.

The bones were not revived to become a group of spectators or to live for their own comfort. They became an army, and an exceedingly great one. They lived to act under the orders of the one who gave them life.

God then explained what he done through Ezekiel. These bones are the whole house of Israel not only those from the kingdom of Judah. The restoration would include those from the northern kingdom of Israel that fell to the Assyrians some 150 years earlier. This restoration was meant for a dispirited people who had lost hope and felt cut off. God promises to bring them back to their land. This was a promise God made to Ezekiel in 36:24 and 36:28.

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Heart Transplant – Thursday, 20th week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 36:23-28

We are still reflecting on the oracles of restoration that are found in Ezekiel chapters 33-39. This section is dedicated to the oracles that pertain to the land and the people and this chapter in particular focuses on the restoration of the community that live in the land.

We are also looking at the highpoint of Ezekiel’s theology of salvation and justification. This theology is based solely on the fact that it is God’s grace and his grace alone that saves us. The words of Ezekiel are similar to the words of his predecessor, the prophet Jeremiah, who echoes similar words in Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Our focal verses (24-28) are midway through an oracle which begins in 36:16 and ends in 36:38. The opening verses of the oracle provide a history of the house of Israel focused on their misdeeds. They are reminded of their past and their disobedience, but the prophecy does not end there. Despite these actions and precisely because of God’s concern for God’s holy name, God will act now to rescue them.

God begins by reminding the Israelites that He has been perceived as ‘ineffective’ in the eyes of the nations because of the wickedness of his people. It was Israel that provoked God’s hands and forced them into exile. Now, the scattering of the Jews among the nations gave the impression that God could not protect his people. What has been undone by the Israelites by their action can only be restored by God so that seeing the actions of God the nations may recognise and glorify the one true God.

I guess the same can be said of every Christian, who by their behaviour, desecrates the holy name of God. Sanctifying and glorifying the name (person and power) of God is what God’s people are called to do, a fact made evident in the Lord’s Prayer: “hallowed by Thy Name.” Think about it; we are the only Jesus some may ever see; what if our actions bring scandal to the Church and to the name of God?

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Just a razor to the neck – Wednesday, 20th Week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 34:1-11

If ever text of scripture should make the ministers and preachers of God tremble in their boots, it is this one. It spoke directly to civil and religious leader who were to shepherd the people of Israel and it speaks directly to civil leaders, ministers and preachers who shepherd their flocks in the name of God. What it has to say is without lather, just the razor to the neck doing its job!

With the fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 33:21), there is a transition from preaching oracles of doom to words of hope. These words of hope were developed in two stages. Chapters 33-39 are a series of oracles directed to the purification of the land and the people for the day of the renewed Israel. Chapters 40-48 will be oracles of hope for the great temple of Jerusalem which now stands destroyed.

But while Ezekiel did preach oracles of hope it did not mean that God’s judgment had faded away; at least not for its rulers and leaders. In this chapter, Ezekiel focuses on the purification of the of the community and the land. He denounces bad rulers who have shepherded Israel (34:1-10). Even though the book of Ezekiel deals with the southern kingdom of Judah, “Israel” is a theological term for God’s people as a whole. God announces his plan to shepherd the sheep himself and to appoint a new David over them. (Ezekiel 34: 11-31).

The notion of shepherds as rulers of the people emerged from the Sumerian kings in the third millennium. These rulers of the ancient near east referred to themselves as ‘shepherds’ of their people. Borrowing from an already acceptable term, Ezekiel directs God’s wrath towards these leaders

Today’s reading takes up the first issue of bad shepherds. Ezekiel is blunt! “Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep” (34:2b-3). The unfaithful leaders of Israel (both civil and spiritual) exploited their flocks without caring for them in return. It wasn’t wrong for the shepherd to make his living from the flock, but it was wrong to do it in a way that neglected love for the flock and the needs of the sheep.

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God was ‘Tyre-d’! Tuesday, 20th Week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 28:1-10

Chapters 1-24 of Ezekiel dealt with oracles against Israel as a nation. Now chapters 25-32 focus on a special collection of judgment oracles against seven foreign nations. Chapters 25 to 32, in which our text is to be found, is sandwiched between the oracles of judgment against Israel (1-23) and the oracles of restoration (33-48). In doing this Ezekiel establishes a sequence of events. After Israel receives her judgment, God will begin a period of restoration. He will do this by first punishing the pagan nations who have profaned the holy people of God and their nation and then restore the land and the people of Israel themselves.

All nations have political enemies and Israel and Judah were no exceptions. The prophets always addressed their oracles against these enemy nations but they never did this by entering the nations in question, they never set foot on enemy soil to proclaim an oracle. Whenever they proclaimed an oracle against an enemy nation they always did so in Israel.

By doing this, Yahweh, Israel’s God, asserted dominance over all other nations and held other nations accountable for their deeds just as he did with Israel. God also demolished the claims by these nations to any divine authority by showing that they acted out of pride and hence they were destroyed; no god could help them nor stand against Yahweh. But by this, Israel was also assured that the attacks from these nations would not go unpunished.

In chapters 25 -32 there is a climactic order in the judgment of the seven nations. It begins with four small neighbouring nations of Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia to the more significant opponents like Tyre and Sidon (Chapters 26-28) and finally to the most important foe, Egypt (chapters 29-32).

Our text of today has jumped the judgment on the four minor nations to settle down in particular with the ‘Prince (read King) of Tyre’. Ezekiel vehemently opposes Tyre because it fought against Babylon with the help of Egypt thus attempting the thwart the inevitable judgment of Yahweh.

Tyre was an ancient city of the Phoenicians in what is now Lebanon. It appears for the first time in the Bible in Joshua 19:29. The city was actually composed of two parts, one on the mainland and the other on a rocky island about a half mile from the coast. Tyre developed a powerful shipping trade with the help of the Egyptian navy. Tyre with the help of Egypt held out against Nebuchadnezzar for 13 years after the fall of Jerusalem. Finally, Tyre fell to the Babylonians like a fully laden cargo ship that sinks on the high seas.(chapter 26)

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