A mixed reaction

The first wave of exiles from Judah left Jerusalem in 597 B.C. when “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city, and his servants did besiege it” (2 Kings 24:11). At that time, Nebuchadnezzar “carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land” (2 Kings 24:14). Even though Nebuchadnezzar took away what could be considered the heart and soul of Jerusalem in 597 B.C., the city remained in tact for another 11 years while king Zedekiah reigned. Zedekiah was what might be called a puppet king. Zedekiah was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar and was expected to follow his commands, but eventually, Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and was also taken into captivity (2 Kings 24:7) along with the remainder of his kingdom (2 Kings 25:11). It is believed that on August 14, 586 B.C., Judah’s 70 years of captivity officially began.

A final wave of exiles was taken from Jerusalem in 581 B.C. that consisted of people who had returned or migrated back to the city after Nebuchanezzar’s conquest in 586 B.C. After that, the city lay desolate, completely empty, until Ezra returned with 42,360 people in 538 B.C. to rebuild God’s temple (Ezra 2:65). Some of the people that came back with Ezra had actually been taken from Jerusalem, had survived their period of captivity, and were there to see the temple structure rebuilt. It says in Ezra 3:12, “but many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy.” Their mixed reaction to completing the laying of the foundation of the second temple may have been due to these older mens’ memory of their former life. No doubt some of them suffered from a type of post-traumatic stress syndrome that brought flashbacks to them of the violence they suffered when the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army.

“The people of Israel were accustomed to showing their emotions in visible and audible ways” (Note on Ezra 3:13). The psalms of David are filled with heartfelt pleas and agonizing cries for mercy that were sung to God for many generations after David died. While they were in exile, it appears that God’s people continued to praise him and were at times even forced to sing the songs that meant so much to them. Psalm 137 is believed to be “A plaintive song of the exile – of one who has recently returned from Babylon but in whose soul there lingers the bitter memory of the years in a foreign land and of the cruel events that led to that enforced stay” (Note on Psalm 137). Contained within Psalm 137’s nine verses are: the remembered sorrow and torment (vv. 1-3), an oath of total commitment to Jerusalem (vv. 4-6), and a call for retribution on Edom and Babylon (vv. 7-9). The notable first verse of the Psalm recalls, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”

Among the men that returned to Jerusalem were descendants of the king of Judah, Jehoiachin, who was taken into captivity in 597 B.C. at the age of 18 (2 Kings 24:12). Jehoiachin, his son Shealtiel, and grandson Zerubbabel are listed in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:12). Although Zerubbabel never sat on the throne as king of Judah, he played a prominent role in the reestablishment of the city of Jerusalem and was present at the dedication of the altar. It says of Zerubbabel and his counterpart Jeshua, son of the high priest Jozadak in Ezra 3:2-3, “Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priest, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, too offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon his bases, for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening.”

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The new temple (part 9)

The sacrificial system established for the new temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 of his book had many variations from the ones that were established in the Mosaic Law (note on Ezekiel 45:18-46:24). A key difference in the systems was the role of the prince in providing the offerings that were to be sacrificed to God. It says in Ezekiel 45:17, “And it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the Sabbaths in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel.” The Hebrew word translated prepare, kuwn (koon) can also be translated as provide (3559). The idea being that the prince was expected to take from his own resources whatever was necessary for the sacrifices to be made.

Reconciliation for the house of Israel was also known as atonement. The day of atonement was associated with the priest’s entrance into the holy place in the temple where the ark of the covenant was kept. In the ceremony, It says in Leviticus 16:7-10, two goats were to be presented before the LORD “and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” In this scenario, atonement was made through the release of the scapegoat. In other words, the live goat was ransomed or pardoned from death.

The suggestion in Ezekiel 45:17 that the prince’s offerings would make reconciliation for the house of Israel implies that atonement for sin was not accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross. What may be true about reconciliation is that a person cannot be redeemed by the death of Jesus Christ after the period of God’s grace comes to a conclusion. Once the reign of Christ begins, and the law is reinstated, it appears that atonement will have to be accomplished through the sacrifices of the prince. Perhaps the best way to look at the new sacrificial system is as one in which the sacrifice for sin is meant to encourage a person to change his behavior. The effects of shame and humiliation could be the real reason why God instituted a sacrificial system of punishment, rather than capital punishment, in the first place.

The new temple (part 6)

According to Ezekiel’s vision, in the center of the temple courtyard there stood an altar on which sacrifices were to be made. Since the period of grace began, after Jesus’s death and resurrection took place, it has seemed as if sacrifices are no longer necessary. What we can assume from the appearance of an altar in the new temple is that there will come a time when salvation by grace will no longer be available to mankind. In other words, God’s law will once again be the standard by which all men will be judged (Ezekiel 43:27). Although Jesus’ death paid the penalty for every sin that ever had or would be committed, our ability to claim that payment and apply it to our spiritual account has an expiration date, the day he establishes his kingdom on earth.

During Christ’s millennial reign on earth, a new world order will exist that requires submission to God’s will. Obedience to God’s laws will no longer be optional. If you can image a kingdom in which there will be no sins committed against God, you will understand that God’s sovereignty has never been forced upon man up to this time. Free will represents the ability man has to rebel against God. There will come a time when man’s free will is exempted and God’s grace will cease to exist in the sense that it can no longer be claimed in lieu of obedience to the law. Therefore, sacrifices will be made to God just as they were when the first temple was built by king Solomon. At that time, the celebration of feasts signified a right relationship between God and his people. In the future, that relationship will be restored and it will cause the people to do what was never possible before, live according to God’s commandments.

A glimpse into this future new world order is given in Hebrews 13:10-21. It says:

We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burnt without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you sooner. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The liar

One of the few descriptions of the devil in the Bible is found in John 8:44. Differentiating between those who are true children of Abraham and those who are not, it says, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lust of your father ye will do .He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for his is a liar, and the father of it.” Satan’s reputation as the father of lies implies that all lies originate from him. In the book of 1 Kings, there is recorded an incident in which a lying spirit was sent to the king of Israel (1 Kings 22:23-24). A conversation between God and the host of heaven suggested that king Ahab could be persuaded by a lying spirit to do something that would result in his own death.

At the time of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem, the people were being told lies about their safety inside the city walls. Ezekiel was told, “They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they made others to hope that they would confirm the word” (Ezekiel 13:6). “Divination was a pagan parallel to prophesying…it seems probable that the diviners conversed with demons…Divination was one of man’s attempts to know and control the world and the future, apart from the true God” (7080). Even king Zedekiah participated in the deception of God’s people. His consultation with Jeremiah revealed that surrender was the only way to avoid death, and yet, Zedekiah chose to keep the information from the people and tried to escape secretly by night (Jeremiah 39:4).

In an attempt to make the truth known to his people, Ezekiel was given advance warning of king Zedekiah’s plot (Ezekiel 12:6) and was told to warn the people against false prophets (Ezekiel 13:2). God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth? Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision. For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 12:22-24).

The connection between idolatry and lying divination was found in a sacrificial system that promised peace and prosperity at a price. In a sense, the false prophets were bribed to tell the people what they wanted to hear. Sacrifices to pagan gods were used as a front for the business of organized crime. It was illegal for the Israelites to worship other gods, and yet, idols were kept in God’s own temple (Ezekiel 8:12). God’s condemnation of the false prophets showed that his people were under their control and needed to be delivered from their dangerous practices. He said, “Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life: therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 13:22-23).

Exempted

A key component of the Israelites’ sacrificial system was the Passover. The Passover was instituted on the eve of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Prior to that night, the Egyptians had experienced nine plagues because Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go into the wilderness and worship their God. The plagues were intended to demonstrate God’s miraculous power. The LORD told Moses, “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5).

During the plagues, God made a distinction between the  Israelites and the Egyptians. God told Pharaoh, “I will put a division between my people and thy people” (Exodus 8:23). The Hebrew word translated division, peduth is derived from the word padah. “Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition” (6299). Padah is usually translated as redeem or ransom. God was letting Pharaoh know that his people were no longer subject to Pharaoh’s command and would be exempted from the rest of his plagues.

The last plague God brought upon the Egyptians was the death of all their firstborn. Even though the Israelites were exempted from this plague, they had to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts of their home as a sign to God that he should pass over that household (Exodus 12:7). The lamb was later referred to as the Passover (Exodus 12:27) and the Israelites were expected to celebrate this event annually in remembrance of God’s deliverance. After the Israelites settled in the Promised Land, the Passover celebration was for the most part ignored or forgotten. It wasn’t until king Hezekiah ordered the people to observe it, that the Passover was kept as it was originally intended to be (2 Chronicles 30:5).

In 622 B.C., after the book of the law was found and read to all the people, king Josiah kept the Passover exactly as it was prescribed by Moses. Every person that was living in Judah and Jerusalem participated in the celebration (2 Chronicles 35:17). This may have been the only complete observance of the sacrifice since it was celebrated in Egypt. Josiah  himself provided 33,000 animals for the sacrifice, indicating there were probably only 100,000 – 200,000 people residing in the nation at that time. Around 800 B.C, there were 300,000 men alone in Judah, 20 years old and above that were able to go to war, suggesting the total population was over one million.

The significance of king Josiah’s Passover celebration was that it occurred within a generation of when Judah went into captivity. There were three kings that followed Josiah; all of whom were his sons. It seems as if the first Passover and this last Passover celebration served somewhat as bookends to the Israelites’ freedom. The only way God could get the people to celebrate it was through the threat of death. Given that the Passover exempted the Israelites from all punishment of their sins, you would think they would have been more diligent about its observance.

Denial

The subconscious mind sometimes filters unpleasant thoughts or memories that the unconscious mind wants to get out. Denial is one way this process may work. As a defense mechanism, denial enables a person to avoid confrontation with a personal problem or with reality itself by denying its existence. Unfortunately, dreams often subvert this process and can force a person to accept that a problem really exists.

When the northern kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity in 722 B.C., Judah did not expect to go with them. Because the people of Judah were engaged in religious activities, they thought they would be excused from God’s punishment. In particular, Jerusalem was thought to be a safe haven because the temple of God was there. Priests and false prophets told the people they had nothing to fear because their sacrifices guaranteed God’s protection.

Isaiah used the name Ariel instead of Jerusalem in order to trigger the people’s awareness of danger when he declared, “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! Add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices. Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be to me as Ariel” (Isaiah 29:1-2). The people’s sacrificial system had become a defense mechanism against their awareness that the Assyrian army was closing in and was about to attack Jerusalem.

Isaiah used the illustration of the subconscious mind at work during sleep in order to convince the people they were in denial about their future. He said, “And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as a hungry man dreameth, and behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty” (Isaiah 29:7).

The problem the people needed to acknowledge was they had become spiritually numb and were no longer communicating with God. Although God had been speaking to them, they didn’t hear what he was really saying. They were tuning him out. Isaiah declared:

And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed…Wherefore the Lord said, forasmuch as this people draw near to me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me…Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work amongst this people. (Isaiah 29:11, 13-14)

Independence

Israel’s relationship with God was meant to be special, unique in that it involved personal contact between God and his people. The basis for the relationship was a covenant that was similar to a marriage that permanently bound the two together. The problem was that Israel didn’t want to be dependent on God. The people thought they could take care of themselves and didn’t need to be forgiven of their sins. Hosea stated it this way. “They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God” (Hosea 5:4).

Basically, the message Hosea conveyed was that Israel was unconcerned about its own well-being. Like a reckless teenager barreling down the freeway at 100 mph, Hosea stated, “And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face: therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them” (Hosea 5:5). As much as God wanted to be in close contact with his people, the Israelites were determined to exercise their independence, so he had to walk away and leave them to their own devices.

Speaking through the prophet Hosea, the LORD communicated his intention. He declared, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early” (Hosea 5:15). The way God’s system worked was that his people had to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness through sacrifices. The people thought their sacrifices were payment for their sins, but in reality, the sacrifices were symbolic of the substitutionary death required to erase the sin from God’s memory.

Israel had gotten used to God coming to her rescue whenever she cried out for help. Like a child whose mother constantly attends to her needs, the people of Israel thought God would respond as usual even though the people had stopped confessing their sins (Hosea 6:3). Their sacrificial system was no longer a means of clearing their collective conscience, but a way to get God’s attention and to secure the Israelites’ prosperity. The LORD pointed out the contradiction in their objectives when he stated, “For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

As a testimony to their disobedience, God reminded the Israelites that forgiveness was not automatic and the consequences they were going to experience was a result of sin (Hosea 7:2). Using the illustration of a hot oven to depict their uncontrolled behavior, God showed the Israelites that their resources had run out (Hosea 7:7). In spite of this, they thought they could survive without him. “And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him for all this” (Hosea 7:10).