Monday, September 10, 2012

Farewell Eccentric Ezekiel

Several months ago I saw Ezekiel coming on the horizon. The book seemed foreboding. I read it and didn’t understand it at first (not that I completely understand it now!). Frankly, I dreaded having to teach from it. I put off choosing “working titles” to share with other staff who were also working on Journey related stuff because I just couldn’t get settled. As the time grew closer, I became consumed with the “weird and wonderful” book (as one of my Ezekiel commentaries call it). Now, I’m kinda sad to see it go.

I love to immerse myself in what I'm studying. Ezekiel has been fun in this regard. From beginning to end there are opportunities for this. I’d love to share a couple of examples so that you know what I mean:

In the early part of Ezekiel (chapter four) God told him to live exclusively on a peculiar kind of bread. Did you know that you can actually get it in the grocery store? I bought some “Ezekiel 4:9 Bread” and have been eating it for a couple of weeks. I’d never heard of it before receiving an email from a person doing the Journey 2012 along with us online. She said that the bread (made from the ingredients found in Ezek. 4:9) is a "Bible food that is among the most perfect foods ever devised for human beings because the recipe was made by God." "In fact" a website she quoted says, "the bread recipe that God gave to Ezekeil (sic.) is a survival bread." This bread is called “holy” and is supposed to be a perfect food, since Ezekiel "lived on that Holy bread for over a year"! I found the bread in the frozen food section at Ingles in Karns! On the package it describes itself using words like “miracle” and “staff of life.” How did I not know about this?!

Of course, I immediately had questions like, “Did they cook it over dung?” and “Wasn’t it supposed to be a meager bread to illustrate the suffering of besieged Jerusalem?” But that’s just me nitpicking. I actually liked the bread (as long as it was smothered with butter and honey)! And Darla really liked it! I can’t say I’ve noticed any laudatory affects from eating it, miraculous or otherwise.

The other way I immersed myself in Ezekiel is to set myself to study the over-the-top description of the future temple that God revealed at the end of the book. After reading it over the first time, I wondered, “Why is there so much written about this?” It just seemed so, well, unnecessary (perhaps even boring). I didn’t go there on a Sunday morning because I simply didn’t have time to scratch the itch when there were so many other major themes that demanded attention but it is very interesting! I especially enjoyed reading a book entitled, Messiah's Coming Temple: Ezekiel's Prophetic Vision of the Future Temple, by John W. Schmitt and J. Carl Laney. Excellent!

On his website, Schmitt writes:
Almost six chapters in the book of Ezekiel are devoted to an explicit description of the Temple. His eyes must have flooded with tears of joy as he saw before him the beloved altar of sacrifice and the beautiful Temple building with its two golden pillars before the Holy Place and Holy of Holies. However, most amazing to him: some historically essential elements of temple worship were missing.
In addition, the structure itself was different; the walls were much lower; the inner and outer courts were strikingly different. The most astonishing change, however, the furnishings.
There was no Candlestick, no Table of Shewbread, no Golden Altar, no Veil, and no Ark of the Covenant with its Mercy Seat. In their place was a wooden table before a door into the Holy of Holies. This table of wood is very surprising. It is evident that the information surprised Ezekiel, for he twice mentions it in his writings. He must have also wondered a great deal about the meaning of these missing items since he was a priest and trained to be knowledgeable on all aspects of the Temple and its worship.
It is particularly noteworthy that the items Ezekiel left out all reflect the presence of Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world” – the Candlestick. Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life” – the Table of Shewbread. Jesus said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me” – the Golden Altar. Jesus said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” – the Mercy Seat. The Bible tells us that when Jesus died on the cross, the Veil was torn from top to bottom – providing all people access to God.

Wow! Pretty cool, huh? In the book there is much more, from the history of the Temple Mount and the current squabbles over it between Jews and Muslims to what the authors believe the Bible teaches about the role of Ezekiel’s temple in the end times.

You know, Ezekiel ended up really surprising me. I only wish we had more time to really dig in! But, alas, here comes Joel and Daniel...!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Tyre Quagmire

When I was in college I took a class entitled "The Old Testament Prophets." The professor (an ordained minister and super-nice guy) took it on himself to make sure we students were aware that the Bible was, in his opinion, "unreliable." He used Ezekiel 26 as his primary example. He read verses 3-14:
Artist's rendition of Alexander the Great's siege against Tyre
  "Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declares the Lord GOD. And she shall become plunder for the nations, and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the LORD.
"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers. He will kill with the sword your daughters on the mainland. He will set up a siege wall against you and throw up a mound against you, and raise a roof of shields against you. He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. His horses will be so many that their dust will cover you. Your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen and wagons and chariots, when he enters your gates as men enter a city that has been breached. With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will kill your people with the sword, and your mighty pillars will fall to the ground.
They will plunder your riches and loot your merchandise. They will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses. Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters. And I will stop the music of your songs, and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets. You shall never be rebuilt, for I am the LORD; I have spoken, declares the Lord GOD."

This, he said, was a clear example of biblical fallibility since history shows that Nebuchadnezzar was unsuccessful in his attempt to conquer Tyre, an island city 1/2 mile from the shore in the Mediterranean. He even quoted some other passages from Ezekiel where he said Ezekiel "backed-off" his earlier prophecies about Tyre when he saw they had not been fulfilled.

I left class that day feeling discouraged. He had argued persuasively. I was asking myself, "Do I need to reevaluate my understanding of the Bible? Is it really true? Or are there some parts that are imaginative, speculative, or worse, deceptive? How can I believe any of it if any part is flawed?" I was reeling. After all, if parts of Ezekiel are untrustworthy, how can I know John 3:16 is true?

I got in my truck after class to grab lunch and drive to Knoxville where I worked. My radio was tuned to a religious station and I caught the beginning of Thru the Bible Radio with J. Vernon McGee (something I occasionally listened to). He "just happened" to be talking about Ezekiel 26 that day! I couldn't believe it! On that show he pointed out details in the text that my professor had (conveniently?) overlooked. He also told about Alexander the Great, who with his Greek army (one of the "many nations" who God would "bring up against" Tyre) also besieged Tyre. They quite literally used the ruins of Old Tyre, the part of Tyre that was on the mainland—actually scraping the soil—and threw the rubble into the Mediterranean to make a causeway—a land bridge—to the island city so that Alexander could conquer it! I was amazed, elated, and mad. Before my next class I did some research. I checked the facts for myself and found that McGee was right. Several non-Christian sources confirmed the historical account of Tyre's demise. And I read Ezekiel's account with my own eyes (along with some help from my Ryrie Study Bible notes) and saw the amazing accuracy of the prophecy—down to the details! Far from being an example of inaccuracy, this was an amazing testimony to the Bible's dependability—and a reminder: God means what he says. A quick trip to the campus library uncovered much more about the "many nations" that were brought up against Tyre. Interestingly, ancient Tyre remains ruins to this day. It has never been rebuilt. Ezekiel's prophecy could hardly have been more literally fulfilled.

I went back to class loaded for bear. After his lecture I engaged the professor, sharing with the class what I had learned of Ezekiel 26 and the rest of the story of Tyre's history. Funny, he didn't want to talk about it. He quickly cut off any discussion and dismissed the class! Although I felt victorious, it was also frustrating! Why would a Christian religion professor and minister seek to undermine the veracity of the Bible in the minds of college students? Why not celebrate the accuracy of the Word? It's still a mystery to me.

Here is an article about the supposed "difficulty" regarding Ezekiel 26. Read it and see what you think!