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God Has Something to Say

God Has Something to Say
15th September 2013

God Has Something to Say

Passage: Ezekiel 1 - 3

Bible Text: Ezekiel 1 – 3 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Ezekiel – Hopelessness to Hope | God Has Something to Say
Ezekiel 2:1 – 3:15

Invasion: Unlikely or Reality?
Early last month a story appeared in the news, but was largely ignored in the middle of the Federal election campaign.
It was about a study conducted by the Australian National University’s, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, which found that Australia’s sovereignty has only ever been seriously under threat once, in 1942, There is a growing risk, of invasion by other, larger countries, particularly as the global food crisis worsens, and our larger, more populous neighbours, eye off the vast uninhabited Australian countryside.
The authors of this study urged us, as a nation, to read the geopolitical signs, and take steps to prevent our land being invaded.
Understandably, this suggestion didn’t really get much airtime, presumably, because no one in Australia actually thinks it’s likely to happen!
And for centuries, that’s exactly how God’s people Israel thought about the possibility of their nation being destroyed.
“We’re God’s people,
We have the temple of God in Jerusalem
God would never let our country be destroyed”,
But that’s exactly what’s happened, such that this book opens, look in your Bibles with me if you will, at Ezekiel chapter 1 verse 1, I was among the exiles by the Kebar River,
Jerusalem has been destroyed, and Ezekiel, and thousands of his countrymen,
Have been carried off as exiles to Babylon.
In order to get our bearings here, we need to go a while back in history, and if dates and events aren’t really your thing, don’t worry, the detail isn’t important.
How did we end up here?
But to get a handle on what’s happening here, jump back in your minds, to around 1000 BC.
David is Israel’s king.
His son, Solomon reigns after him.
You may be familiar with David and Solomon. David is the one from David and Goliath, and Solomon was the one who suggested cutting the baby in half which was a sign of his wisdom! Although I realise it doesn’t sound very wise, out of its context!
After Solomon, Rehoboam became king, and under his reign, in about 975 BC, the nation of Israel split in two.
The northern nation kept the name Israel,
The southern nation became known mostly as Judah, but is occasionally called Israel as well.
200 years pass, and the nation of Assyria emerges as the world superpower. And in 722 BC, Assyria wipes out the northern kingdom of Israel.
Judah, in the south, with her capital Jerusalem, survives, and, over time, establishes an alliance with Egypt, their much larger and more powerful southern neighbour.
However over in the East (LEFT), the nation of Babylon has arisen, and supplanted Assyria as the dominant superpower, and Babylon defeats both Egypt and Assyria, in the famous Battle of Carchemish.
So with Egypt, Judah’s protector defeated, Judah also falls to Babylon, and the king, and the nation’s leaders, are carried off to exile in Babylon, and among that group, was the man we know as Daniel, of the lions’ den fame, and a 25 year-old trainee-priest, named Ezekiel.
Now, it sounds, doesn’t it, like Ezekiel is standing by the side of the Kebar river in 593 BC, simply because of a sequence of geopolitical events.
This king defeats that king, defeats that king.
But the fact that Judah is defeated,
The temple of God is destroyed,
People are carried off as captives,
These aren’t mere accidents of history, these are the very things that God said would happen, if his people turned away and worshipped other gods.
The exile, which is what we call this captivity in Babylon, is the direct result of the people’s sinfulness;,
Their rejection of God,
Their constant turning of their ears away from God’s Word.
See what God says to Ezekiel in verse 7 of chapter 3, But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate
That’s what’s brought us to this point.
Just like the Centre for Strategic Studies wants us to be on the lookout for the signs of a future invasion, God himself had set up the signs warning that this invasion and exile was coming, but his people refused to heed the warnings,
They continued to live in the land God had given them, but they refused to acknowledge God.
And you can’t keep ignoring God’s pattern for life, and not expect the natural and just consequence that God has laid down,
And so at the turn of the 6th Century BC, God’s people find themselves strangers in a foreign land, exiles in Babylon.
God is nowhere
But even so, God is clearly pictured as present with his people, captives though they are, in a foreign land.
Look at verse 3 of chapter 1, with me, the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River, in the land of the Babylonians. There, the hand of the Lord was on him.
Then jump down to verse 28,
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. 3 verse 2, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.
And then in chapter 3 verses 15 and 16, once again Ezekiel underscores the fact that he is with the exiles, in a foreign land, when God speaks to him.
If you look at your outline, you’ll see I’ve printed that little phrase, you might have seen this before, it looks like “God is nowhere”
But of course, it’s all matter of where you put the space, isn’t it?
Put a space in between the W and the H, and although it did look like “God is nowhere”, now it says “God is now here”!
Well to the citizens of Judah, carried off as captives, it had looked, like “God was nowhere”.
Can you imagine the shock and despair, as wave after wave of these exiles, arrive in Babylon?,
Why had God allowed this to happen?
Had Israel’s God been defeated by the gods of the Babylonians?
Was God still in control?
Was this actually his doing, had he brought this disaster on his own people?
Where is God, when it hurts like this?
But Ezekiel’s message, to his fellow captives, they are his original audience, and to us, is not that “God is nowhere”, but that “God is now here”
It’s easy for us to miss the shock and surprise in this.
For us, who know we don’t have to be standing on a particular piece or real estate in order to meet God.
We know we don’t come into this building, to enter God’s presence.
Gosh, what would the Federal government have thought if they knew they were funding a building for God to live in?!
We know that we don’t have to be somewhere particular in order to hear from God, and so it’s less shocking for us, when Ezekiel says, “God is now here.”
In Babylon,
In the land of their enemies.
Even in that last phrase of chapter 1 verse 3, the word there is in the emphatic position at the beginning of the sentence.
There God appeared,
There God spoke,
There God stretched out his hand,
There, among pagan Babylonians,
There, among faithless Israel, who had had their land taken from because of their sin and disobedience,
There God appears, in all his glory and power. That amazing vision in chapter 1, we didn’t read it, but it’s a picture of what you’d call a “chariot-throne”.
Now, it’s remarkable enough, for someone to be given this kind of vision of God’s glory.
But even more unexpected, is that God would reveal himself like this, in Babylon.
My parents were in Paris, once, and as they were walking down the Champs Elysee, my dad heard somebody call out his name! He turned around, and there was a colleague from work, back here in Adelaide.
“What are you doing here? You’re the last person I’d expect to see here!”
I’m sure for Ezekiel, that’s pretty much exactly what could be said of God.
What are you doing here?
It is astounding,
And remarkable,
And yet hugely comforting isn’t it?, That God would appear in Babylon.
That God would appear among his sinful, obstinate, and exiled people?
And that God, would not only appear, but would come and speak, would send a prophet to speak his Word, to his people, Israel.
God is everywhere
But it’s not that God just kind of went with the children of Israel, from Jerusalem, to Babylon.
That remarkable vision in chapter 1, pictures God as sovereign over all of the earth,
God isn’t just now here, God is everywhere.
Look at the description of these living creatures, in verse 10, Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle,
It seems like they’re arranged in a square, wingtip to wingtip, with the human face, that’s the one that’s listed first, facing outwards,
4 living creatures,
Each with 4 heads,
Each with 4 wings,
The picture is of all 4 points of the compass being covered.
God is pictured as present in all the earth,
He can see everywhere, and everything,
There is nothing that escapes his notice,
And this strange arrangement of wheels within wheels, chapter 1 verses 15 and 16, conveys the idea that this chariot throne, with God, and his entourage of heavenly creatures, can move in all directions, without anyone even needing to turn around, or turn their heads.
I was in a church service this week, and as we said what’s called the words of invocation, the opening of the service, the person leading said, “with these words we invite God to come and join us.”
Do you think this God, needs to be invited to join us?
And if even that weren’t enough, for Ezekiel, and the exiles to understand that God is with them, in Babylon because God is everywhere, and that nothing escapes him,
And no one is too far away from him to notice,
And no one is beyond his reach or influence,
Look at the last part of chapter 1, from about verse 22 onwards,
We’ve got these kind of frightening looking living creatures, and then above them, something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome!, that is some kind of platform, above the living creatures,
And above the platform is a throne, on which God is seated.
And when God speaks, his voice comes, do you see, not just from among the living creatures,
Or from above the living creatures,
But from above the vault, which is above the living creatures!
One commentary I read this week noted that “the modern reader can only regret that Ezekiel did not provide a visual illustration to accompany his text!”
But do you get the sense of exaltation, above every living thing,
Above all the earth?
This is an astounding picture, of the God who is exalted over all the earth.
As is generally the case in the Bible, the picture of a throne, speaks of authority, and rule.
We heard lots of this kind of stuff in the lead-up to the election last week. This green ballot paper is a symbol of the part I can plan in the governing of our nation.
And the massively long senate voting paper is a sign of something completely different!
But a throne is a sign of rule and authority,
Here is God pictured as ruling over all kings,
Here is God and his court, exalted over all the courts of all the world.
A friend of mine once had a poster on their wall, with the words “If God seems far away, guess who moved.”
And I get the sentiment of that, It’s a reminder of the unchangingness of God,
But the truth of the matter, the poster should really read, “If God seems far away, he’s not!”
I’m sure, like many of us, there was nothing wrong with Ezekiel’s theology of the presence of God.
He was a trainee priest, he knew his stuff!
He would have known that God is everywhere,
He would have known and sung the words David wrote in Psalm 139 for example, Where can I go from your presence?
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me
That was God’s promise.
But God’s Word is shown to be true and 100% reliable, not just in theory, but in reality.
See God’s Word isn’t just information to keep up here (HEAD),
What God says, makes a difference to life.
We’re not carried off into exile, away from the land that God promised to our ancestors,
And we’re not likely to experience the kind of revelation from God that Ezekiel does,
And yet it’s no less important, that we remember, that “God is now here.”
Not here, because we’re in this building,
Definitely not in this building!
But as God’s people after the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have God’s Spirit dwelling within us always. A permanent experience of the presence of God that Ezekiel and his contemporaries, could only dream of!
If you’re a Christian person,
If you’re someone who’s trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins,
If you’ve been made a child of God, you have God’s Spirit within you,
If God seems far away, it’s not a matter of “Guess who moved”, but a matter of Scriptural truth, needing to shape your present feelings and understanding.
God is not far away.
God has not lost control.
God has not been defeated by the gods of this age
We might look at the world, and sometimes be tempted to think,
God’s abandoned his people,
God’s turned his back on the world,
God’s plans and purposes, The advance of the gospel, are seemingly thwarted at every turn,
I sometimes look at our country, and I see that the rejection of God’s pattern for life, is so widespread, and so widely accepted that it’s becoming enshrined in legislation!
The current presenting issue, being the redefining of marriage.
Or even inside the church, where church and denominational leaders are blessing sexual behaviour that God has said will lead you away from God, and put you under God’s judgment.
And yet to speak the truth into those situations is to be howled down.
To repeat what God has said, is to be written off, as fringe, an extremist
Does it look to you, ever, like God has lost?
That God has lost control?
That somehow our part of the world, is too far gone for God.
Well we can’t look up and experience for ourselves this amazing, powerful vision of God, supreme over all the earth,
But we, like the Israelites in exile, have Ezekiel’s description, of what God showed him, and we have the message that this God, the sovereign Lord, who is now here, spoke to his people.
God has something to say
You may have noticed in chapters 2 and 3 as we read them, that the sheer bulk of this section consists of direct speech, it’s just about all in quotation marks.
And out of the few verses that aren’t direct speech, most of them are tied up with Ezekiel’s description of the scroll, which is covered on both sides with God’s written Word!
God is a speaking God,
God has something to say!
And those words at the beginning of chapter 2 and chapter 3, he said to me, that phrase occurs 41 times in the book of Ezekiel, and every time it occurs, God is the subject.
God says, to Ezekiel,
The communication in this book is overwhelmingly unidirectional.
Look with me at chapter 2 verse 3, God says “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites,
Now, this is official government language.
This is the language of sending someone with all the authority of the king.
This week that Steve Bracks got unsent, by the new government, as Consul General in New York, because they want to send someone else to New York as their representative.
That’s the language here.
God sends Ezekiel, because he has something that he wants his people to hear.
God has something to say even to rebellious people
And the overwhelming message here . is that God has something to say to his people, even though they have rebelled against him. And not just did rebel, past tense, even now, the people are still rebellious, in exile in Babylon!
So entrenched are God’s people, in their rejection of God,
So strong is their desire to set themselves up as their own lords and masters,
So determined are they to provide for themselves, through their ingenuity, through their cunning and political alliances, through their material prosperity,
So committed are they, to the idea of carving out an existence apart from God, that even they are reaping the consequences of that way of life in their own lives,
Still they rebel against God.
Still they turn their ears away from God’s Word.
Still they refuse to listen to listen to God, chapter 3 verse 7.
It was Albert Einstein who said “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right;, a single experiment can prove me wrong”
Well God’s people had centuries of experimenting with turning their back on God to see where that would get them, and every single one of those experiments proved their approach wrong.
Yet still they persisted.
It sounds a lot like life today, doesn’t it?
The experiment of pushing God to the edge of life, and beyond,
Both in public life, and in private life,
The experiment of saying “We don’t need to submit to God’s rule,
We don’t need God to tell us what’s right and wrong,
We can make those decisions, determine right and wrong for ourselves,
The state our society,
The state of our families,
The state of our nation,
The state of our world,
Our incompetence in stewarding the environment,
The wholesale loss of compassion in the way we treat others, especially those who are not like us,
Do those situations, not all scream at us, in letters metres high, that the experiment of carving out an existence apart from God, has failed?!
And yet so fixed are we as a people, in our pattern of rebellion,
That broken families,
And a fractured society,
And a bleeding environment,
And a torn world,
And hopelessness, and helplessness in faces at every turn, is not seen as a cause to turn to God, but so warped and distorted is our thinking, that even these things we witness and experience that should make us flee back to God, and fall on our knees, and throw ourselves at his mercy,
We look at these things, and in our depravity and corruption, we think these things justify our rebellion:
“I could never trust in a God who allows, this, and this, and this”
Listen who God is speaking to.
Chapter 2 verse 3, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me;, they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day
They are, verse 4, obstinate and stubborn
Verse 5, they are a rebellious people
Verse 6, they are a rebellious people
Verse 7 they are rebellious, verse 8 Do not rebel, like that rebellious people
In Exodus 32, God sends Moses to speak to the people of Israel, who he describes as a stiff-necked people. And there’s that old joke about Moses being the world’s first physiotherapist, because he worked with people with stiff necks!
But here, we find that Ezekiel wasn’t a physiotherapist, he was a heart surgeon! See stubborn there in verse 4, is literally “hard of heart”
The people’s hearts are hard, that they don’t even look like God’s people.
It looks like the covenant God made with Israel has fallen apart.
God’s pattern, when sending prophets to speak to his people, was to begin by identifying himself by his covenant name, Yahweh, translated in our Bibles “the LORD”, in all capital letters.
Hosea chapter 1 verse 1, The word of the Lord, Yahweh, that came to Hosea
Jonah chapter 1 verse 1, The word of the Lord, Yahweh, came to Jonah
Obadiah 1:1, The vision of Obadiah. This is what the Sovereign Lord Yahweh, says
And part of the reason for doing this, was to remind the people, right at the outset, who God was, in relation to the people.
It would be a bit like me, every time I go to speak with my wife Kathy, waving our certificate of marriage under her nose, pointing to my wedding ring, saying “Hello dear, I’m Clayton, this one here, my name’s written here, where is says bridegroom!, Do you remember me?”
But here in Ezekiel’s call, God doesn’t use his covenant name until verse 4, and there’s no reference at all to “my people”
2 weeks ago, Paul Harrington was preaching, and he opened with a hypothetical situation, of a husband, introducing his wife to a co-worker, not as his wife, but as a friend.
And you think, how bad must things be in that relationship, for the language that ought normally be used in that relationship to be set aside, in favour of, much more distant language?
In chapter 3 verse 3, God describes the Israelites as a rebellious nation, see it there.
And yet in the original language, the word for nation is not singular but plural. It’s the Hebrew word goyim. It’s the word used even today by Jewish people, to refer to Gentiles, non-Jews, the nations.
Do you hear what God says to them?
The Israelites have lost their identity?
They have abandoned the covenant that gave them a relationship with God like no other nation on earth.
Here is the warning that God’s people can become indistinguishable from the world around them.
Here is the warning, that it is absolutely possible, for God’s people to have enjoyed all the privilege of being chosen and called by God,
Provided for by God,
The beneficiaries of a rich heritage of relationship with God,
And yet become a rebellious people, who by their lives, and words, and actions, cannot be distinguished from the nations among whom they live.
And yet,
It is to this obstinate and stubborn people, that God speaks.
God’s message is a sign of his compassion
And so we see that God’s message, is a sign of his compassion.
His sending of Ezekiel as his prophet, is a sign of his enduring mercy towards his people, and his commitment to the covenant, even though they’ve rejected it.
I once heard a sermon that began with the line, “You should be glad I’m not God”! It stuck with me!
And it would be true of me now.
Isn’t it remarkable, that God still speaks to Israel, that he still has compassion on them?
Chapter 3 verse 7, they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate
If I were God, I would have washed my hands of these people, a long time ago.
Of course, standing where we do, on this side of the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus, this should come as no surprise to us.
Jesus, who came and died for us, not while we were living in obedience to God,
Not while we had anything to commend ourselves to him,
But while we were living as his enemies.
It’s always been how God words, for the sovereign creator of the universe to have any relationship with people, or communication with people, it can never be on the basis of what we deserve, because we deserve nothing but his condemnation!
But God in his mercy and compassion, makes himself known, to people who are living as his enemies.
Even when, those people don’t want to hear.
God’s message is one that some people don’t want to hear
Let’s have a look at the scroll, this symbol of God’s message to Israel.
Notice first, Ezekiel’s obedience to God’s command, in contrast to the repeated statements of Israel’s refusal to submit to God,
eat this scroll;, So I opened my mouth
eat this scroll, So I ate it
We might talk of “chewing over” some idea, in the ancient world, they went one step further, and eating or drinking was seen to represent an idea, a message, become part of who you are.
He speaks God’s word, as naturally as it were part of who he is.
But notice also that the scroll was written, on both sides, it’s a complete message, there’s nothing Ezekiel needs to add, and it’s written with words of lament and mourning and woe, 2 verse 10.
We’ll see in coming weeks that that really us a good summary of Ezekiel’s message, but you don’t expect, do you, that a scroll filled with such bitter content would taste sweet as honey in my mouth chapter 3 verse 3?
See the sweetness is not related to the content of the scroll, but the fact that these words come from God himself.
Ezekiel’s satisfaction will not come from the uplifting nature of his message. Much of it will be quite appalling.
It will not come from a great response to his preaching, God says they are not willing to listen
They are hardened and obstinate verse 7
Again there’s some great body language here, literally this reads “they are strong of forehead”
The forehead was where God’s people should have tied a copy of God’s law, as you still see Jewish men, particularly, doing today, a little box, with a tiny scroll containing a written copy of some of God’s word,
But instead of the forehead being a place where God’s Word was seen and remembered, even that now, is a sign of their opposition to God and rejection of his message.
It would have been easier for Ezekiel, he could have expected greater success, humanly speaking, if he had been sent to some foreign nation, who had never heard the Word of the Lord.
But among people who have become calloused and comfortable, their hearts are hard, and their ears are deaf to what God would say to them.
And so Ezekiel’s satisfaction, his measure of success, will come in only one category.
Will he be a faithful messenger of God?
The mark of success will not be,
That countless thousands are converted,
That his church grows,
That his children all grow up to be Christians,
That the government enacts laws that reflect God’s pattern for life,
Or that people around him would think well of him.
None of those things may come to pass.
And so it’s very important that Ezekiel has clear in his mind, the true measure of success.
I imagine that different ones of us, are prone to adopting different measures of success.
At the end of our days, how will we know if we have been “successful”?
We’ll here’s the measure.
Have we been obedient to the words, and commands, and the will of God?
Or have we sought after popularity,
Our own comfort,
And being well thought of by others?
Ezekiel is not responsible for Israel’s response to God,
But he does have a message to speak.
And if you, as a disciple of Christ, have ever felt the burden, of speaking an unpopular message into a world that is quite intent on rejecting God,
Or even, more painfully, the burden of bringing a hard word, of the reality of sin and judgment, pictured so clearly for us at the cross, bringing that message, not just to the world, but to people whom you love,
People who care about,
You know how hard that can be.
That’s Ezekiel’s experience.
His message will be unpopular,
And the people to whom he must bring it,
Are his people,
People who had suffered with him, the pain and suffering of the exile,
People no doubt including his family and friends.
Back to the Kebar river he went, in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord on me
This is a hard task entrusted to him, and it is not one that Ezekiel embraces eagerly.
But the strong hand of the Lord is upon him, restraining him, enabling him to submit to this undesirable task, in order that lost and rebellious people, would hear the message from God.
He doesn’t try and soften the message,
He doesn’t try and make it more appealing,
He knows that what God says, people need to hear,