The mark

In his divine judgment of the city of Jerusalem, God demonstrated his ability to exercise self-control, in spite of fierce emotions that caused him to destroy everything, including his holy temple. Before he undertook the action to kill everyone within the city walls, God ordered a mark to be placed on the forehead of every person who shared his disgust with the situation. Calling forth the seven guardian angels that protected his people, God gave instructions to set apart those who were faithful to him. It says in Ezekiel 9:4, “And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.”

The seventh angel, who was clothed in linen, carried a writer’s inkhorn with which he was to place the mark (Ezekiel 9:2). Although it is not specified exactly what type of mark was made, the Hebrew word translated mark in Ezekiel 9:4, tav or taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, specifies a signature. The signature may have only been represented by an X, but the implication was that the mark was a sign of ownership that was imprinted on the forehead. A similar marking is found in the book of Revelation where it says of the Antichrist, “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive the mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-17).

God’s judgment of Jerusalem was in many ways the foreshadowing of God’s final judgment of everyone on earth. It says in Revelation 3:12, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” It is possible that the mark placed on the foreheads of those in Jerusalem at the time of the city’s destruction was linked to Christ and was the equivalent of receiving salvation. The remarkable thing about receiving the mark was the only  requirement was to sign or groan, as if in despair (Ezekiel 9:4).

Ezekiel’s visions of God allowed him to see beforehand the outcome of God’s judgment of Jerusalem. In spite of his lenient excusal of anyone that cried out in despair, it appeared that none would survive. After the order was given to slay everyone that did not have the mark, Ezekiel exclaimed, “And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord GOD, wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?” (Ezekiel 9:8). God’s reply to Ezekiel’s question suggested there were none who believed and were willing to cry out to him for help. “Then he said unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not” (Ezekiel 9:9).

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Recompense

In an attempt to prepare Ezekiel for the worst catastrophe that the Israelites would ever experience, God showed Ezekiel exactly what his motivation was for completely destroying the city of Jerusalem. As if to announce a death sentence on a guilty prisoner, Ezekiel was told, “thus saith the Lord GOD unto the land of Israel; An end, the end is come upon the four corners of the land. Now is the end come upon thee, and I will send mine anger upon thee, and will judge thee according to thy wages, and will recompense upon thee all thine abominations” (Ezekiel 7:2-3).

The Hebrew word translated recompense in Ezekiel 7:3, nathan (naw – than´) means to give (5414). Nathan has a very broad context and can be used to convey many types of actions where there is a transfer of possessions. In a technical sense, nathan means to hand something over to someone in order to satisfy a debt or as payment for services rendered. “This word is used of ‘bringing reprisal’ upon someone or of ‘giving’ him what he deserves” as in the punishment for sins committed. The Apostle Paul taught in his message to the Romans, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Once again, Ezekiel was transported by the spirit to see with his own eyes the abominations taking place in Jerusalem. It says in Ezekiel 8:3, “And he put forth the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lift me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy.” The image of jealousy was most likely a statue of Asherah, the Canaanite goddess of fertility. The presence of this idol in the temple of God suggested that the Israelites were intentionally provoking God’s anger.

Along with the idols that were openly displayed, numerous objects were kept in the secret chambers of God’s temple. Ezekiel was asked, “Then he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery?  for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth” (Ezekiel 8:12). The idea that God was limited in his awareness of what his people were doing came from a distorted view of his deity. Much like a man, God was expected to behave in ordinary ways and was thought to be temperamental and easily provoked.

One of the objectives God expected to accomplish by punishing his people was to restore their respect and reverence for his position. As the sovereign LORD of the universe, God could do whatever he pleased. In order to reestablish a proper relationship with his people, God chose to put an end to sacrifices and burnt offerings, so that the basis of salvation would not be confused with earning God’s favor. Once God punished his children, he would be free to move on with his plan of salvation, which included the provision for all to be saved by his grace.

Face to face

Moses had a unique relationship with God in that the LORD spoke to him face to face, “as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11). When Moses spoke with God, he didn’t actually see his face. “The Bible clearly teaches that God is a spiritual being and ought not to be depicted by an image or any likeness whatever” (6440). God himself said, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). Although it’s impossible to see God, Ezekiel’s vision showed him a man upon a throne that had the appearance of the glory of the LORD (Ezekiel 1:27-28).

Ezekiel’s interaction with the man upon the throne suggests that he was seeing the resurrected Jesus Christ. In other encounters in the Old Testament, when the preincarnate Christ was seen, he did not have the glory of the LORD associated with him. It wasn’t until the book of Revelation was written, after Jesus had ascended, that images of God (Jesus) were depicted in the Bible. Not only did Ezekiel see the man on the throne, but he also heard his voice. It says in Ezekiel 2:1-2, “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that heard him that spake unto me.”

Ezekiel’s commission as a prophet was unique in that the spirit that entered into him was able to cause him to do things against his will. As you might think of a person that is demon possessed, Ezekiel was in a sense possessed by an angel or spirit of God. Ezekiel told us that the spirit took him up and supernaturally transported him to another location, against his will. It says in Ezekiel 3:14, “So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.” Ezekiel was furious that God was able to overpower him in such a way, but could not do anything about it.

Afterward, Ezekiel was devastated, as though he had been violated by the spirit. His anger toward God was clearly an impediment to his ability to carry out his mission, and yet, God was determined to use Ezekiel as his spokesman. Seven days later, Ezekiel received a message from the LORD. He said, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17). Ezekiel was told that if he didn’t warn the people as God instructed him to, he would be held responsible for their eternal damnation (Ezekiel 3:18).

A visit from God

Ezekiel was a priest that was taken into captivity in 597 B.C. along with king Jehoiachin and several thousand citizens of Judah and Jerusalem. At the age of 30, Ezekiel saw visions of God while he was in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1-3). It says in Ezekiel 1:3 that “the word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest…and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.” What that means is that Ezekiel’s message came directly from God; an intermediary angel was not used to deliver it.

Ezekiel described what he saw in graphic detail using words such as likeness and appearance to convey what he knew to be supernatural manifestations of spiritual beings. In his account of what took place, it is evident that Ezekiel was both awestruck and curious about the vision. The first image that was seen by Ezekiel was a giant cloud that was blown in by a stormy wind, and then four living creatures that looked like men came out of the cloud and stood before him, as if they were trying to get his attention (Ezekiel 1:4-5).

Ezekiel’s description of the four living creatures makes it clear that spiritual beings function differently than human beings and yet, there are similarities that make it possible for us to understand each other. The most obvious difference between angels and humans is that angels have wings and can move about in much more efficient ways than we can. Also, angels are able to operate in a unified manner. The four living creatures were separate individuals, but they moved in unison with one another, as if they were joined together like Siamese twins (Ezekiel 1:9).

Depending on which direction they wanted to go, each of the four living creatures faced forward toward the north, south, east, and west, and led the others to their desired destination without having to turn or go backwards. They each had four faces that enabled them to act according to their circumstances without changing their expressions. The angels’ faces and wings were designed to not only improve their mobility, but also to guarantee they would not be hindered in performing their assignments. It seems as though the four living creatures were tasked with guarding the entry way to God’s throne room, or acting as guides to direct the cloud in which the throne was located to its desired destination.

I think one of the most interesting and important aspects of Ezekiel’s vision was that it came to him while he was in exile in Babylon. The sight of his visitation, the Chebar river was no doubt a busy spot where both Babylonians and Israelites congregated to collect water. Although Ezekiel’s vision was communicated to him alone, the information was made public so that everyone would know God had visited him in Babylon. The remarkable thing about it being there was no place off limits to God, he could transport himself wherever needed to communicate with his people.

The child prophet

The prophet Jeremiah was unique in that his calling to serve as God’s mouthpiece was not a secondary  occupation that temporarily fulfilled God’s need to deliver a message to his people, but a lifelong vocation that Jeremiah had been specifically created for. God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou comest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). The Hebrew word translated formed is yatsar (yaw – tsar´). “Yatsar is a technical potter’s word, and it is often used in connection with the potter at work. The word is sometimes used as a general term of ‘craftsmanship or handiwork’…Yatsar is frequently used to describe God’s creative activity, whether literally or figuratively” (3335).

The prophet Isaiah used the word yatsar in connection with God’s  relationship to the nation of Israel and redemption of his people. In general, it could be said that yatsar refers to someone that has been saved or born again. Isaiah spoke of this when he said, “Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth: even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:6-7). These words were spoken in the context of God’s redemption of his people. Although it could be said that every person is a child of God, only those that have been redeemed or saved go through a transformational process in which they are conformed into the image of Christ. This process is referred to as sanctification. God said of Jeremiah, “before thou comest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (Jeremiah 1:5). Therefore, it could be said that Jeremiah was born a fully matured Christian in order to accomplish his vocation as a prophet unto the nations.

One way of looking at a fully mature Christian is to see him as someone that has completely submitted himself to God. He does this because he understands God’s role as Creator and sees himself in the context of a divine order that is intended to accomplish God’s will. Sometimes it is easier for a child to get this perspective than an 80 year old man. When Jesus was a child, he was found in the temple “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Even though Jesus was only twelve, he had the ability to discuss deep theological issues with men that had been studying the scriptures their whole lives. It is possible Jeremiah had this same or a similar capacity and began his ministry as young as 12-14 years of age (Jeremiah 1:6-7).

Jeremiah’s ministry began in 626 B.C., in the fourteenth year of king Josiah’s reign. Josiah was only 22 years old at that time. In the eighth year of his reign, Josiah began to “seek after the God of David his father” (2 Chronicles 34:3) and by the eighteenth year of his reign, he had purged the land of idolatry  and begun a building project to repair the house of the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 34:8). So, Jeremiah’s ministry started under positive conditions in the nation of Judah. The people may have expected peace and prosperity to return to their nation because they were doing the right things. Unfortunately, time had run out for God’s people and his judgment was inevitable. The LORD warned Jeremiah of an impending disaster that would come soon. Jeremiah received two visions from God about this event (Jeremiah 1:11-14).

Although is must have been difficult for Jeremiah’s young mind to comprehend all that was about to take place, his ability to “see” the future helped him to grasp the situation ahead for Judah and to communicate it clearly. Twice, the LORD told Jeremiah to not be afraid of or dismayed at the faces of those he had to speak to (Jeremiah 1:8, 17). The Hebrew term for face, paneh (paw – neh´) refers to the look on one’s face or one’s countenance (6440). In other words, Jeremiah was going to have to confront some scary people, but God assured him that he would protect him. He said, “And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee” (Jeremiah 1:19).

 

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)

Imagine

Psalm 48 is a vision of a future or end state of the capital of God’s kingdom. The psalmist refers to this city as the “city of God” (Psalm 48:1). Another way of looking at it would be as God’s hometown, the city where he actually lives. It may be hard to imagine God living on earth, but the Messianic name of God, Immanuel, means “with us (is) God” (6005) or God with us.

The amazing thing about Psalm 48 is that it appears to have been written after Israel was taken into captivity. The purpose of the psalm was probably twofold. First, it was a statement of faith that Jerusalem would survive Assyrian attack. Second, the psalm provided hope to those who dared to imagine that God’s presence on earth would one day be a reality.

The ability to imagine themselves as the final victors over every kingdom on earth gave the Israelites strength to endure their most difficult challenge, exile from their homeland. With hopeful expectation, the psalmist stated, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion” (Psalm 48:2). In other words, he wanted us to imagine the city of Good as a bright light that brings joy to the faces of everyone that sees it.

In addition to portraying the city of God as a place of hope, the psalmist also described mount Zion as an impenetrable fortress. The city’s elevation, proximity to the desert, and access to a water supply made it a perfect place of refuge, but the presence of God’s temple made it an intimidating citadel that seemed beyond capture. The psalmist declared, “For lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together. They saw it, and so they marveled; they were troubled and hasted away” (Psalm 48:4-5).

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the city of God is its eternal existence. God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was that he would give them the land of Canaan for ever (Genesis 13:15). When Jesus establishes his kingdom on earth, it says in Luke 1:33, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” According to this promise, the psalmist stated, “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever” (Psalm 48:8).

Trying to imagine a city without end would be impossible if it weren’t for the concept we have of heaven. Even though we can’t see it, we know heaven exists and that it is God’s home right now. Somehow, in the future, heaven and earth will intersect in such a way that eternal life will be natural for human beings. The key to this intersection is Jesus and his triumph over death. As if to explain the need for death to occur before there could be eternal life, the psalmist stated, “For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death” (Psalm 48:14).