“…. the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple….” -Mal. 3.1a
A friend and teacher of mine once gave a remarkable definition of man-made traditions with regard to spirituality:
Religion is man’s attempt at making God something he can manage.
This has long been the egotistical disposition of mankind: seeking to create God in an image we prefer, rather than receiving and loving Him as He is.
The prophets of Israel were commissioned by the Lord to shake His complacent and sleepy-hearted people away from their preconceived notions and traditions, and to usher them into a revelation of God’s true nature and purpose.
The false prophets of Judah in Jeremiah’s day, for instance, leaned hard on age-old traditions, and used them as a blanket of false security. They claimed that judgement could not befall Jerusalem, for the tradition declares that God Himself is in the land and that it is therefore protected and covered. The moral conduct of the priests and prophets, the lifestyles of the people in the land, and the nature of Judah’s political activities were not to be discussed. Israel was protected because of Abraham’s faithfulness, and no trouble could overtake them. Or so they assumed.
Tradition says that Yahweh lives in the midst of the people. This is interpreted as Israel’s great security against all danger. In contrast to this, the prophet discerns the freedom of Yahweh in His coming. Yahweh cannot be domesticated by knowledge oriented toward the past, nor can He be attached, like some predictable element, to a pious view of existence. Rather, He shatters the fixed conception that Israel developed in her tradition, and in this, His new and terrifying coming, He proves Himself to be Yahweh….
…. the name of Yahweh cannot in its true content be considered neutrally as tradition. It is the suggestive appellation of the One who, for all that is said about Him, remains a personal subject and decides Himself, in His freedom, what He will do when He comes. And as certainly as He once came to Israel, as tradition tells of Him in Israel’s worship and apart from this, He is never at the disposal of humans like earthly property.
(The Fiery Throne: The Prophets and OT Theology, Walther Zimmerli; Fortress Press, 2003; p. 4)
He never contradicts His own character, but He does obliterate our definitions and categories, especially when we are seeking to utilize Him for our own purposes. “He is never at the disposal of humans like earthly property.”
His radical mercy will shatter our self-righteous assumptions and ideas. His fierce wrath will burn up our moral lightness and our loose views toward sin. He cannot be confined to our tidy theological definitions and traditions. The prophets remind us that we cannot fit the Lord into our schedules, plans, and dreams. If we would have anything to do with Him, we’ve got to cast our lives- lock, stock and barrel- into His Kingdom. After all, by nature, only God Himself is free.
We experience the glorious freedom of love, righteousness, peace, and truth only as we sink our souls into Him.
Bryan Purtle is the founder of the Antioch Prayer Society in Kansas City, MO.
Posted in Featured Articles, The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Abraham, Bryan Purtle, false prophets, freedom, jeremiah, Jerusalem, judgement, Kingdom, prophets of israel, Revelation, Walther Zimmerli
“…. while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” -Ez. 1.1b
For Ezekiel, who functioned as a young priest of Judah, the bank of the river Chebar was hardly the ministry opportunity he would’ve had in mind when he laid his life down for service in the temple. The river Chebar was the territory of Babylon, and he was laboring among a people who had been exiled, and who were under the judgment of God.
It would’ve been a remarkably trying time for him, where all his expectations and ideals for God’s people had been shattered, and his own priestly desires had been walled in and suffocated by the cold reality of exilic experience. He was not where he had hoped to have been, and his people had totally fallen short of that for which he had prayed and labored.
…. the young priest had to pass through a waiting period of agonizing tension in which hope and fear alternated.
(Walther Eichrodt, EZEKIEL; Westminster Press, p. 54)
Ezekiel was likely being tossed to and fro by encouraging days, when a few of his kinsmen would come alive to the Law, and radically discouraging days, when others would curse him and the word he presented. Had God forsaken he and his people altogether? Was there any way to live as His people in the midst of Babylon? Could he bear the light of God in the soul-chilling surrounding of such darkness? Little did Ezekiel know that his own presence by the river Chebar would be the very extension of God Himself to a people in radical need of prophetic reality. Little did Ezekiel know what was coming. God Himself would break into the maze of questions and struggles to reveal the glory of His enthronement. And this is just what Ezekiel needed in such a time of shaking.
The coming of Yahweh to Ezekiel and the sending of the prophet to Israel show that God was still concerned with His mysterious and special purpose for the ‘house of Israel.’
…. God’s coming to keep faith with His people knew no barriers. In the full splendor of His regal glory God met His people in the midst of a heathen land.
(EZEKIEL 1, Walther Zimmerli; Hermeneia, Fortress Press; 1979, p. 140)
Perhaps you are reckoning with the same alternating emotions, going from hope to fear, from encouragement to discouragement. Perhaps you feel trapped in a type of Babylon, and you are wondering if there is any sense to your life and calling. Know this, dear saint: Just as the Lord was “still concerned” for His “special purpose for the house of Israel,” He is intensely concerned for you. He will “keep faith with His people.” Indeed, “He who began a good work in you will complete it, unto the day of Jesus Christ.”
You may be in the midst of a heathen land, but God will meet you even there. He will wash your feet, your hands, and your heart. He will be the balm of healing to your cracked soul. He will purify your lips and restore the praises of God to your mouth. He will mold and commission you, in the unique way He has appointed, to make you a voice in this generation. You need only to lift your eyes away from alternating emotions and distracting thoughts, and to see Him enthroned on high, “in the full splendor of His regal glory.” When the breakers are rolling over you and there seems to be no possibility of breathing, He is still enthroned, and extending His hand to you. He calls you today, even now, to come up above the tossing waves, and into the clear air of fellowship with Him.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Babylon, discouragement, ezekiel, healing, israel, Jesus, judgment, Ministry, Reality, Walther Eichrodt, Walther Zimmerli, Westminster