Friday, July 21, 2017

Speak the Truth Anyway

Print Passage: Ezekiel 3:1-11
Devotional Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24

As we were growing up there was a cute cereal commercial. In the commercial the two older boys indicated they did not know what the cereal was, but they knew they could give it to their younger brother for a taste test. After all, Mikey loved everything. Sure enough Mikey liked it.1 https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=mikey+commercial&&FORM=VDVVX I love cookbooks because I am like Mikey. I like the way the cooks put the meals together with the different spices, meats, vegetables, etc. You never know what to expect from some of the recipes; the variations are so different to create with so many tastes. Even though I find myself open to new ideas, I recognize there are those who may stumble because of my taste in foods. The purpose is not to eat what I want. The purpose is to make sure the work of God is not destroyed. (See Romans 14:14-23)

We are in Unit II “Calling of Prophets” of the three units of the quarter. This is the third lesson of a five-lesson study. Today we shall look at the prophet Ezekiel and how he received the call to preach the Word of God. As I read the first chapter I felt the book of Ezekiel would be a very hard read and a very hard book to interpret. I recognized from the beginning that he had a relationship with God. Chapter 1 was of his vision of the glory of God. Throughout the book Ezekiel was both a foreteller (able to accurately predict the future) and a forth-teller (able to declare God’s truth). Because of his relationship with God, Ezekiel was able to proclaim the Words of God as a prophet and a priest to the Israelites when he was exiled with them. He not only proclaimed God’s message orally and in writing, but he acted out the Word of God. Ezekiel’s name means God is strong, God strengthens, or God makes hard.2 http://www.allabouttruth.org/the-prophet-ezekiel-faq.htm

We know that God, as a loving parent, will chastise His children. Such is the case when He decided His children, the Israelites in the Southern Kingdom would be turned over in captivity. However, God always provides for His children. A prophet was at their disposal to relay His message wherever they were found. The prophet Daniel was taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon when the LORD allowed the first exilic deportation under Judah’s wicked King Jehoiakim. (Daniel 1:1-7) He was in the king’s palace speaking to both Babylonians and the Jews. The prophet Jeremiah witnessed the second exilic deportation (2 Kings 24:10-16) when the Israelites were taken captive under Judah’s wicked King Jehoiakin. King Nebuchadnezzar then appointed King Zedekiah to be king of Judah. Jeremiah remained in Judah as God’s prophet to those who remained behind under wicked King Zedekiah. The prophet Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, had been taken to Babylon during the second exilic deportation in 597 B.C., eleven years before Jerusalem fell. Ezekiel sat among the exiles and became their messenger from God. Each of the prophets lived prior, during and after the time of the fall of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel was from a priestly line, and much of his ministry centered on issues concerning the temple. He spent much of his time telling the exiles that Jerusalem would indeed fall (as it did in 586 BC), and so they should not expect a quick return to their land. Instead, they should focus their energies on living in their new exilic context in obedience to God. In the end, however, in a very memorable vision of dry bones coming to life, Ezekiel prophesied that the temple would be restored and the people would return to the land.3 http://thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org/resources/introductions-to-the-books-of-the-bible/ezekiel/

In our lesson we see the most unusual way in which Ezekiel received his calling to speak for God. Upon seeing the glory of God in a whirlwind coming from the north accompanied by four living creatures (Ez 1), the LORD God began to give Ezekiel his calling in chapter 2. I imagine Ezekiel was so humbled to see this vision of the glory of God that he immediately fell to his knees in holy awe and fear. He was ordered to stand on his feet. Once he did, the Spirit of the LORD entered him and began to speak to him about the rebelliousness of the people and God’s plan. Ezekiel vividly explains in his vision at Ez 2:9-10, Now when I looked, there was a hand stretched out to me; and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. Then He spread it before me; and there was writing on the inside and on the outside, and written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe. (NKJV) God wanted Ezekiel to be bold and faithful in implementing His plan. The LORD does not want any cowardly soldiers. The scroll given him had writing on both sides. So the plan was extensive. Also, it would not be a happy errand. His listeners would either not receive God’s message through Ezekiel or they would be in a very sad state of passionate expressions of grief or sorrow. But the LORD had decided this would be Ezekiel’s commission.

To make sure Ezekiel understood he was the one chosen to implement the plan in all its details, God declared in Ez 3:1-2, Moreover He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. (NKJV) When God speaks to Ezekiel, He always calls him Son of man. It does not refer to the Son of God, Jesus, at all. Here God is commanding Ezekiel to eat the scroll which has writing on the inside and on the outside, and written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe. Once he has received and internalized God’s Word, he is better qualified to deliver it because it is part of him. God wanted Ezekiel to take in the Word as a revelation for a better understanding to reveal the truth of the Word to the people.

It is stated in Jer 15:16, Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts. (NKJV) Whatever we find to be the Word of God, we must eat without disputing. Those who preach on the importance of obedience must be obedient. God continued to instructing Ezekiel regarding the scroll at Ez 3:3, And He said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.” So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness. (NKJV) Ezekiel did not hesitate in obeying God’s instruction. He was to fill his stomach with this spiritual Word and not throw it up (allow his body to reject it). I am sure he expected it to have a bitter taste because the writings were filled with so many sad lamentations and woes. However, the scroll left a taste in his mouth as sweet as honey.

First, it is best to accept the calling God has for you and to preach His message faithfully than to try to fight against Him. Our arms are too short to fight against God. Secondly, although the scroll contained prophecies of captivity, judgments, and sadness, it also contained prophecies of hope for future restoration following the captivity and a bright future. Today we look at honey as just another sweetener. In Ezekiel’s times honey was a delicacy by which Ps. 19:19-11 compared to gold as follows: The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward. (NKJV) He would be greatly rewarded as an obedient prophet for the LORD.

Ezekiel was directed to speak only the Words given to him by God for he was going to speak to a very rebellious people. We see the LORD continuing to give him his call in verses 4-6, Then He said to me: “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. For you are not sent to a people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, but to the house of Israel, not to many people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, had I sent you to them, they would have listened to you. (NKJV) Now that Ezekiel has the message, he must approach his audience with the message. God is telling him what type audience he will be preaching to. It is an audience that Ezekiel is totally familiar with because they were fellow countrymen, fellow travelers, and fellow sufferers in captivity. It was not like the prophet Daniel who was taken captive in the first deportation to the king’s palace and not only had to learn another language, but had his name changed to that language. (Daniel 1:4, 7) It was not like the apostles who were given the gift of tongues to be able to minister to many people of strange speech. Ezekiel was among his own people. You would think that would be a plus, but the LORD tells him that people of other lands and strange languages would welcome the prophet’s message. In Ninevah, for example, Jonah’s message was accepted with national repentance to God. (Jonah 3:4-5)

The Israelites in Judah could accept what a stranger (or strange god) told them to be truth, but they could not accept the real truth. God described his children in very unflattering terms. Then He told Ezekiel He would toughen him to be able to handle His rebellious children. Ez 3:7-9 reads, But the house of Israel will not listen to you, because they will not listen to Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted. Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” (NKJV)

A rebellious heart is hard to overcome. You would think the Israelites would be sorry they were in captivity and repent unto God. Just the opposite was true. They continued to reject God and worshiped idols, accepting the words of false prophets. Therefore, God made Ezekiel tough because He knew the message that would be given would be offensive to a hostile, rebellious people. Just like the Messiah many years later, Ezekiel would be firm and resolute amidst all contempt and scorn which he would meet. God helped him to make up his mind to endure it. He would not shrink from any kind or degree of suffering which would be necessary to accomplish the great work in which he was engaged. Ezekiel was not afraid or disheartened by the call from God.

The superior wisdom of the Almighty Father is seen when He concludes the call of Ezekiel at verses 10-11, Moreover He said to me: “Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears. And go, get to the captives, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD God,’ whether they hear, or whether they refuse.” (NKJV) God did not want Ezekiel to just hear the Word with his ears and allow the spoken Word to fall out of his ears into space. He wanted him to hear the Word, receive the Word, grasp the Word and place all the Word in his heart in true meditation. Only in this manner would Ezekiel feel determined to go to his fellow sufferers to speak to them from his heart all the Word of the LORD. It won’t matter whether they listen or not. Ezekiel must plant the seed of the Word in order to save his soul.

God did not allow Ezekiel to praise Him. Instead God would silence him as stated in Ez 3:26-27, I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and not be one to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD God.’ He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house. (NKJV) An example of Ezekiel’s required silence can be seen at Ez 12:1-7 when God tells the prophet to take action to portray and illustrate the coming Babylonian captivity of Judah. Verses 8-16 are the verses where the LORD opens his mouth to say ‘Thus says the LORD’ to help the rebellious people understand the actions of illustration Ezekiel had taken that they had observed. They had received the LORD’s message by both sight and hearing. Now it was up to them to decide whether to obey. The messenger had done the job he was called to do.

1 https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=mikey+commercial&&FORM=VDVVX
2 http://www.allabouttruth.org/the-prophet-ezekiel-faq.htm
3 http://thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org/resources/introductions-to-the-books-of-the-bible/ezekiel/

Written by Deborah C. Davis

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Who, Me?

Print Passage: Isaiah 6:1-8
Devotional Reading: Isaiah 66:18-23

I am literally so tired of turning on the television or surfing the Internet to see news that vexes my spirit. If it vexes my spirit, I am sure God is not pleased. So I set out to see if I could locate a real good current event to put a smile on my face. In Frankfort, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed a bill allowing public schools to be able to study Bible courses in public schools. The sponsor of the bill said students need to understand how much the Bible plays in American history.1 http://www.wdrb.com/story/35761799/gov-matt-bevin-publicly-signs-bill-allowing-kentuckys-public-schools-to-teach-the-bible#.WV-ehSu4Ukg.email

Could there be another current event to make my heart smile just as great as that one? I found a little 11 year old African American boy (Bishop Curry) who was upset about the children who die because they were helplessly left in hot cars. So he invented a device which attaches to the head rest or the baby seat and blows cool air until help arrives, after calling the parents’ phones and 911.2 http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/11-year-old-boys-invention-could-prevent-hot-car-deaths/ar-BBDqp0I?li=BBnbfcL&ocid=spartandhp So all is not lost. Despite the multitude of sins today as it was in the days of Isaiah “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Is 1:18 NKJV) God is the same today as He was yesterday. A sincere repentance of your sins, even if they are many or grievous, will bring about a forgiveness from Him. But you must submit to the Almighty Judge who knows what is in your best interest.

We are in Unit II “Calling of Prophets” of the three units of the quarter. This is the second lesson of a five-lesson study. The first prophet we studied was Moses. Now we shall look at the prophet Isaiah. He too had a relationship with God. He was both a foreteller (able to accurately predict the future) and a forth-teller (able to declare God’s truth). Such relationship allowed God to use Isaiah as a willing vessel to speak and write many prophecies, some of which have not manifested as yet, as well as to declare the truth to the wickedness of Judah and Jerusalem as given by God. His name means the salvation of the LORD. In the book of Isaiah we find that God revealed much of the knowledge of the salvation to Isaiah who obediently provided it to the people in both written and oral form.

In Isaiah 1:1 we are informed that he had a vision (while awake) of the wickedness of Judah and the unfaithfulness of Jerusalem. The people of Judah and Jerusalem have hardened their hearts and rebelled against God. They pretend in their ritualistic sacrifices and God is not pleased. They must repent of their sins and learn to do justice to the poor and the widows. They were no longer righteous, so God was no longer accepting their sacrifices nor answering prayers. They were now His enemies. However, God did not totally reject them as hopeless (see Is 1:18 above). It is recorded at Is 1:19-20, If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword;” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (NKJV) A remnant would always be saved.

Isaiah saw this vision during the reign of four kings, namely Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. On the most part, he served under Judah’s most wicked kings (Ahaz) and one of Judah’s best (Hezekiah). Isaiah served God as a prophet for a very long time. Although there were some good kings, his services as a prophet was most needed by God because of the evil in the southern kingdom. The northern kingdom had already been captured by the Assyrians.

The vision when Isaiah was called is dated for certainty. Isaiah 6:1 takes us into his vision stating, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” (NKJV) From this verse we know Isaiah is speaking. He is informing us that the time period of his vision is the year that King Uzziah died. King Uzziah had reigned for over fifty years (792-740 BC), and the kingdom had been prosperous. In general, he had been a godly king until he went into the temple to offer incense to God, a priestly duty. He disobeyed the rebuke of the chief priest, immediately became a leper, and remained a leper until death. His son Jotham came to rule as king after him, but there was some uncertainty in the kingdom. How good would Jotham be? Would he measure up to his dad?

The prophet Isaiah entered the temple and, in his vision, he saw the LORD sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. The real King was sitting on the throne with a long, flowing robe that filled the temple. Isaiah was honored to be able to see the glory of the LORD seated on His throne in all His majesty. Men have a period of time to be able to rule their smaller kingdoms. God’s rule of the world is from everlasting to everlasting. Only He is able to answer all of the prayers of the people to make them prosperous. That is why He sits high to be lifted up and exalted by all.

We are now introduced to creatures that are only mentioned in Isaiah 6 of the entire Bible. Verses 2-3 describe their appearance and characteristics, “Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” (NKJV) I believe the seraphim are sitting above the LORD to proclaim the holiness of God. The LORD must be high and lifted up. We are not told how many of these heavenly creatures there are. We do know that each one of them had six (6) wings similar to the four living creatures in Rev 4:8. We also know the wings had a purpose. The seraphim had great humility and reverence when then attended God. Two wings covered their face. They did not look upon the divine glory of the LORD. Two wings covered their lower part, their feet. They were able to fly with the remaining two wings. The whole earth is full of God’s glory because His glory can’t be confined. David wrote in Ps 72:19, And blessed be His glorious name forever! And let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.

The Scripture tells us in Luke 19 that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who wanted Him to quiet His disciples for blessing His Name during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. “…if these should keep silent, the stones (rocks) would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40 NKJV) Just think…in Isaiah’s vision the people of Judah and Jerusalem were crying out, but they were wicked and their insincere religious attempts were an abomination unto the LORD. God stated He would neither see nor hear from them unless they repent. However, Isaiah’s vision allowed us to go in the temple to witness these seraphim who were sincere in their worship. As they proclaimed the holiness of God Is 6:4 indicates, And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.” (NKJV) This had to be an overwhelming scene to Isaiah. The songs of praise are being sung so loudly and with such zeal of pleasure by these holy angels that the temple shakes. This causes the door posts and thresholds of the foundation of the temple to shake as it fills with smoke. The shaking and the presence of smoke reminds us of what the Israelites witnessed at Mt. Sinai (see Ex 19:17-18). They were terrified by God’s holy power.

Likewise Isaiah was terrified in the presence of the LORD to the point of confession. The prophet exclaimed in Is 6:5, So I said, Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.” (NKJV) What is a woe? A woe can be a judgment, a warning, or it can be used when we have an emotion of grief or distress that are beyond words that can be described. In all examples of woes we see there is no amount of self-righteousness that will ever be enough because God sees our good works as nothing more than filthy rags (Is 64:6) and God will not accept them.3 www.patheos.com By the time we get to chapter 6, the LORD has pronounced eight (8) woes against Judah and Jerusalem. In chapter 3 verse 9 He pronounced a woe to the soul of the unrighteous who possessed no shame and had a problem with partiality. In Is 3:10-11 the LORD pronounced a woe against the wickedness, but allowed for a righteous remnant.

We also find a love story sung by Isaiah written in chapter 5. He sings of the LORD’s love for his vineyard (House of Israel) and the choicest vine (Judah). However, the people had allowed wild grapes to get in His vineyard and it was destroyed, despite all the best cultivation God had given it. When He looked for justice, there was none. So God withdrew His hedge of protection and pronounced these six (6) additional woes to those in chapter 3.

Is 5:8-10 is the First Woe. There were a number of landowners who tried to corner the real estate market, even taking property away from the widows and the poor illegally. They stayed in huge estates themselves never thinking they had enough riches. But when the Babylonian captivity would come, these estates would lay waste, there would be no tenants or rent, while the crop would yield only 1/10th of what was planted. Is 5:11-17 is the Second Woe. There were a number of alcoholics. As alcoholics they had their eyes on themselves only, lived with their minds in their bottles, and had total disrespect and/or knowledge of the LORD. Upon Babylonian captivity the sheep of strangers’ flocks would feed upon their land.

The Third Woe of Chapter 5 is found at Is 5:18-19. These sinners are hardened to iniquity and they challenge God to punish them with what He has threatened. They understand the opposition of the LORD and challenge their own conscience. They are scoffers. Closely aligned to them are those who received the Fourth Woe (Is 5:20) who believe evil to be good and good to be evil. These sinners condemn good. The Fifth Woe (Is 5:21) is against those conceited know-it-all sinners who believe they can’t be told anything. They are wise in their own eyes folks who never figured out that the LORD is an all-knowing God. The Sixth and last Woe of Chapter 5 (Is 5:22-23) is against those men who are heroes at drinking who, as judges, they pervert justice by accepting bribes. The guilty get off and the innocent remain in prison because of bribes received by judges. This doesn’t please God because it is unjust. For their rejection of Him, God has appointed a foreign army to defeat and capture those in His vineyard who remain.

Knowing these woes existed, the reasons why they existed, and his current experience in the shaking temple in the presence of the LORD with the worshiping holy seraphim, it is no wonder Isaiah would be terrified into a confession. He has a sense of awareness that he is not worthy to be in the presence of the LORD. He had seen God’s sovereignty to be incontestable. He is the King, not man. He doesn’t even know how to adequately praise Him in His presence after all he has witnessed. Remember it was Isaiah that sang the song with six (6) woes against the people in chapter 5. Does he believe this is what caused him to have unclean lips? He knew the outcome of judgment on the people. Did he simply believe he could never be holy enough to praise God like the seraphim because he lived in an unholy nation? Perhaps he feels the hand of the LORD will stretch out angrily against him as well?

Isaiah is so nervous. He had just confessed his distress beyond words, as he was in the presence of the LORD. I can’t imagine he was cool and calm. No, I see him more as temperature rising and sweating because he doesn’t know what will happen. Yet his spiritual heart will not allow him to leave. What will God do? Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” (Is 6:6-7 NKJV) God knew Isaiah was humbled in spiritual fear. One of the seraphim took action to calm his fears. In response to Isaiah’s confession of unclean lips, the seraphim picked up a hot coal with some tongs from the altar in the temple. Scripture does not tell us whether the temple is an earthly temple, perhaps Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, or a heavenly temple. That fact is irrelevant. We simply need to know the seraphim used tongs from the altar which was present in the temple of this vision. Scripture also does not reveal whether Isaiah felt any pain from the hot coal. I assume the coal is hot because the Scripture does reveal it was live. By touching his mouth with the live coal, Isaiah would not have to experience the judgment of the woes. He would receive forgiveness. While God is indeed a consuming fire (Heb 12:29), what Isaiah experiences is a cleansing fire, a purging fire. Fire removes impurities from metals (1Pet 1:7) and Isaiah was not undone as he previously thought at Is 6:5.

Now that Isaiah has confessed his unworthiness and been cleansed, he is ready to receive his call and commit to the LORD. Also I heard the voice of the LORD, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” (Is 6:8 NKJV) Finally the LORD is speaking to Isaiah. He wants to know who will go for Us. By using the pronoun Us it is unknown whether it references God and the seraphim or the Trinity. We do know that Isaiah references the Trinity many times in his writing. (Is 11:1-3; 32:15; 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 52:13-53:12; 59:21 61:1-4; 63:10-14)

Unlike our lesson with Moses last week, God did not have to do a long introduction as to Who He Is. Isaiah knew the Lord was the King when he walked into the temple in Is 6:1, and God was sitting high on the throne. God was not burning in a bush causing Isaiah to wonder. There were an untold number of holy angels around in a temple worshiping Him. He was not on a mountain with no one to observe except the prophet. And yes, Moses initially responded “Here I am” in order to draw closer to the bush. But once he knew more as to why the LORD called him, Moses’ response changed to “Who am I?” He later had to be given a sign in order to carry out the Israelite deliverance mission. In contrast Isaiah responded to the LORD’s call in the temple, saying, “Here am I! Send me.” The prophet Isaiah did not require a sign from God. He wanted to be cleansed to serve the Holy One.

1http://www.wdrb.com/story/35761799/gov-matt-bevin-publicly-signs-bill-allowing-kentuckys-public-schools-to-teach-the-bible#.WV-ehSu4Ukg.email

2http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/11-year-old-boys-invention-could-prevent-hot-car-deaths/ar-BBDqp0I?li=BBnbfcL&ocid=spartandhp

3www.patheos.com

Written by Deborah C. Davis