Signs

The extreme measures God took to commission Ezekiel were necessary because Ezekiel was unwilling to serve the LORD as a messenger to a group of people he described as rebellious, impudent, and hardhearted (Ezekiel 2:3-5). Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel would face opposition that would be not only discouraging, but also maddening to the point he would not be able to do his job without God’s help. God told Ezekiel, “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:8-9).

God went so far as to tell Ezekiel he would not be able to speak any words except those that the LORD gave him. He said, “And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD: He that heareth, let him hear; and him that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:26-27). In order to ensure Ezekiel’s messages would be taken seriously, God began his ministry with a series of symbolic acts that would serve as signs or attestations to the validity of Ezekiel’s prophecies (226).

The first sign that was given was a clay model that would portray the siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 1:3). Although Jerusalem’s destruction was imminent at the time of Ezekiel’s deportation, many believed God would intervene at the last minute and save his people from the Babylonian army. Even though king Zedekiah knew the truth, he led the people of Jerusalem to believe they would escape destruction and were safe inside the walls of the city (Jeremiah 28:11). Ezekiel’s model of the siege of Jerusalem clearly depicted the end result, a desperate situation in which the people would be forced to use human excrement as a fuel source (Ezekiel 4:12-13).

Perhaps, the most controversial of Ezekiel’s symbolic acts was the one through which he bore the sins of God’s people. Ezekiel was forced to lie on his side and was bound with ropes or chains in order to depict the bondage of sin, representing to God’s people their need for a savior. God told Ezekiel, “Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it…For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days…And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year…And behold, I will lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another till thou hast ended the days of thy siege” (Ezekiel 4:4-8).

The total number of days Ezekiel would bear the iniquities of God’s people, 430 days, was significant because the period of silence between the last prophetic message the people received through the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ was 430 years (From Malachi to Christ). During that time, Judah was reestablished, but there was no king and the nation was subject to foreign rulers, until finally, Rome captured Jerusalem and the provinces became subject to Rome. Herod the Great, a procurator of the Roman Empire, was ruler of all the Holy Land at the time of Christ’s birth. God said that he had appointed one day for each year of his people’s rebellion. Through this prophecy, God was telling his people when their Messiah would come to rescue them.

 

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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.

Repentance (Step 5)

The last step in the process off repentance  is the establishment of a new normal. Many people may want to be normal, but have no idea what that looks like. The mistake often made today is thinking characters seen on TV are normal. Normal is not something that is constructed in our minds, but the usual state or condition we find ourselves in. Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. Even though body temperature can fluctuate, it is usually 98.6.

Normal for a child of God is a state of dependence on the one who created us. Believers are acting normal when they pray and ask God for help. Our first priority should be to talk to our heavenly father about what is going on in our lives. When we experience tragedy, we feel and usually know with certainty that it is not normal and we should do something to correct our situation. Repentance is not always necessary, but it is a pathway back to God when fellowship has been broken. Lamentations chapter 5 contains a prayer for mercy. It says in verses 1 – 2, “Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach. Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.”

Before God’s people went into exile, he dealt with them on a national level and the king was his counterpart. Once the nation of Judah was destroyed, each person had to account for his own sin and seek forgiveness on an individual basis. Although the book of Lamentations is written as if the nation of Judah still existed, the use of pronouns such as our and us were meant to convey the feelings and desires of the collective individuals that made up the remnant of God’s people rather than the nation that had ceased to exist (Lamentations 5:16).

In the future, God’s kingdom will be restored, but in a different form. As with each individual that has gone through the process of repentance, God’s people will collectively see the return of Christ and the establishment of a new world order. A petition in Lamentations 5:21, “Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned, renew our days as of old” indicated that conversion, and therefore repentance, would be required of all those who would seek a restored relationship with God and entrance into his kingdom.

Repentance (Step 4)

Both the books of Isiah and Jeremiah contain illustrations of God as a potter and his chosen people as clay. Isaiah wrote, “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we all are the work of thine hand” (Isaiah 64:8). Jeremiah was told a parable in which the clay was marred in the hand of the potter and had to be remade into another vessel (Jeremiah 18:4). The LORD said to Jeremiah, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).

The process of repentance includes a willing relinquishment of the outcome of our lives. In order to get us to give up what we once thought to be essential for our happiness, God sometimes has to break our hearts. A broken heart is not about producing sadness, but about the view we have of ourselves that is central to our identity. The heart, according to Hebrew scriptures, is the whole inner man. “It includes not only the motives, feeling, actions and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man”  (3820). In one sense, you could say that a broken heart results in the person you are ceasing to exist.

God’s punishment of his people was intended to change their character. He wanted them to be free of the pride and arrogance that caused them to refuse his help. It says in Lamentations 4:1-2, “How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hand of the potter!

God had to use extreme measures to get his people to stop worshipping idols. It says in Lamentations 4:6, “For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughters of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.” Sodom’s quick destruction was considered a merciful act because there was no awareness of what was happening. When Israel and Judah were destroyed, not only did God tell them what was going to happen, but he also forced some of them to survive and go into captivity where the memory of what happened would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

It says in Lamentations 4:18, “They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.” This passage most likely came from someone that witnessed the destruction of Judah and saw first hand the Babylonian soldiers hunting down people as if they were animals to be killed in sport. This type of ruthless brutality no doubt had a lasting impact on those who survived. Through this experience, the hearts of God’s people were changed forever.

Repentance (Step 3)

Mourning is a necessary part of the process of repentance. Until you’ve had your heart broken and have been crushed under the weight of your circumstances, you can’t fully appreciate the blessings of the LORD. Often times, a traumatic experience serves as a painful reminder of the past that we would like to leave behind. At some point, we will be ready to let go and the pain will begin to subside as hope is restored and we are able to remember there was good along with the bad that we experienced.

Lamentations 3:19-20 shows us that remembering our times of distress has a purpose, to make us humble. It says, “Remember my afflictions and my misery, the wormwood and the gall, my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.” The Hebrew word translated humbled, shuwach (shoo´ – akh) means to sink (7743). Shuwach is also translated as bow down as in to show reverence or respect to someone. I think the best way to express this is to fall down in worship or to sink to one’s knees in prayer.

After you have expressed godly sorrow, and restored your relationship with the LORD, you will start to remember the good things he has done for you. Sometimes it takes an intentional effort to see the good within the bad, but it is there if you want to find it. It says in Lamentations 3:21-23:

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’s  mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

To be consumed means that something is completed or finished, “with nothing else expected or intended” (8552). This kind of attitude can cause us to give up and think there is not point in going on.

In Lamentations 3:22 it says, “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” Essentially, what this is saying is that God is without end, therefore he cannot stop loving us. His love for us continues without any end to it. What we need to realize, and will if we truly repent, is that God has not left us, we have left him. God is faithful, completely reliable, because “that which He once said He has maintained” (530). He does everything he says he’s going to, even the bad, as well as the good.

It may seem like taking matters into our own hands is going to work out well, but in the long run, only God can accomplish that which is necessary for our salvation. His plan is perfect and will yield the best result. It says in Lamentations 3:25-26, ” The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” Understanding that God’s timing is not the same as our timing is essential for repentance to be effective. As  we wait for the LORD we see that he is still working and will not let us move on until we’re ready according to his standard, which is perfection.

Repentance (Step 2)

Godly sorrow, the first step in the process of repentance, is marked by an attitude of humility that recognizes the damage that one’s sin has caused. A description of godly sorrow can be found in Lamentations 2:10. It says, “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads:  they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.”

Perhaps, the most obvious sign that a person has repented of his sins is the absence of pride. Typically, guilt subsides when true repentance begins to take place. A lack of guilt enables the sinner to see that what has happened is a matter of cause and effect. God is not responsible for our bad fortune, he is the one that tries to prevent us from doing harm. Lamentations 2:17 declares, “The LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in days of old.”

If God were not in control, there would be no reason to obey him. The fact that he does what he says he’s going to, proves to us that God is able to make things happen according to his plan and purpose for our lives. When we sin, we are trying to control or alter our own destiny. When we realize that we cannot alter the course of our lives in a positive way, we see that it is foolish to ignore God’s warnings and try to succeed without his help.

We reach the second step of repentance when we are willing to talk to God about what has gone wrong in our lives. We are instructed in Lamentations 2:19 to, “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches, pour out thine heart like water before the face of the LORD: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of the young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.” The Hebrew word translated arise, quwm (koom) is sometimes used to signify empowering or strengthening (6965). In this instance, it is most likely suggesting a restoration of relationship and communication.

It is clear from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the desired outcome of repentance is a restored relationship with God and our fellow man (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). The key to a right relationship with God is an understanding that his commandments are not optional. It is easy to believe that we are free to choose whether or not we want to live according to God’s word, but the fact of the matter is that there will always be negative consequences if we choose to disobey him.

Having a relationship with God is a prerequisite for forgiveness. God does not forgive strangers. The type of relationship that is necessary is not only personal, but also intimate. The phrase in Lamentations 2:19, “pour out thine heart like water before the LORD” is similar to a phrase used by king David in Psalm 62. David said, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him” (Psalm 62:8). The idea being we are to express sincere and intense conviction when we communicate with God.