A Bible Lesson on Ezekiel 36:16-37:14

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This post is a slight variant of a Bible lesson taught at Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Ames, IA, January 1, 2017.

Can These Bones Live?

The background here is that Ezekiel is in Babylon with the second wave of exiles from Judah.  It’s 586 BC or a bit later.  Israel is off the scene, destroyed some 134 years before by Assyria after a long run of evil rulers and apostasy.  Now Babylon has conquered Judah and in chapter 33 of Ezekiel, word has come of the final destruction of Jerusalem.  The mood among God’s people has to be one of terrible despair.  The exiles with Ezekiel in Babylon had perhaps held out hope that soon things would get better and they’d be able to go home again.  Now there was literally no home to go home to.  The city and the temple have been destroyed.  As we break into the text at verse 16 of Chapter 36, God reviews with Ezekiel how His people have gotten to where they are.

Ezekiel 36:16 The word of the Lord came to me:

17 “Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity.

18 So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it.

Evil actions and idolatry go together.  There was improper conduct toward others and toward God.  Idolatry reveals a low view of the one true God, and that will have implications in barbaric behavior towards other people.  Israel and Judah were guilty on these accounts and that had to bring God’s judgment against them.

19 I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them.

In both verses 17 and 19 it is “ways and deeds.”  God judges what His people have done.  He judges what is overt, observable, evident.  As punishment, the nation has been driven from the land, has been cast out of the land that God promised Abraham, has seemingly lost its inheritance.

20 But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’

The standard interpretation of the day was that if a nation lost in battle (and certainly if it was driven from its land) the national god was weaker than the national god of its foes.  That’s what the pagan nations were thinking about Judah.  Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth.  Instead, the only real God in the universe was judging His people and ultimately revealing His Gospel plan of redemption.

Pay attention to the word “profaned” in verse 20.  The meaning is to make or count as ordinary, the opposite of to count as set apart, separate, holy.  Any people whose god didn’t look out for them couldn’t have much of a god, surely not One like Yahweh really is.  Observe that the fault when God is profaned is not with those ignorant of who He is, but with His own people, whose actions aren’t consistent with the truth about Him.

21 But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.

This jars the sensibility of a man-centered sub-Christian religiosity.  God is going to intervene and His intervention WILL most graciously benefit His people.  What He’s going to do will simultaneously vindicate His righteous judgment on sin and provide redemption for His people.  But ultimately it is HIS honor that is at stake, and it is He not we, who is at the center of the universe.  All is well in existence only when its Maker and Sustainer is revered and loved and hallowed.

23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

This has never changed.  God, from the beginning of time purposed to have a people who will be His and show forth His glory.  That was His purpose in Israel, that’s His purpose in the Christian church.  As regards Judah, God promises Ezekiel that He will act in two steps …

24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.

In the first place, God promises to bring the people back to the land.  Do we understand, by the way, that this is by all reasonable standards impossible?  Babylon was the world power, and had no reason whatsoever let Judah go.  The Medes weren’t much of anything and Cyrus, who sent the Jews home was almost surely only a kid when this prophecy came.  How could a return happen?

Second, He promises to purify the people, and even more … genuinely change them.  That is, He promises to not only make them ritually clean but right in essence.

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

It is God who is acting here.  I (God) will sprinkle, I will cleanse, I will give, I will remove, I will put.  It is God who is sovereign and working for any and all good.  It is not humans who decide to do good and succeed in producing a righteousness of works.

At this point in history, hundreds of years of Jewish history built on the gracious promises and revelation of God have utterly failed to produce the kind of heart God promises here, one that loves Him and His ways.  Both the blessings and the curses of God’s law are true and eternal.  Humans desperately need and desire the blessings and always deserve the curses.

In retrospect, these wonderful verses tell us that the complete fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy awaits the New Testament and the salvation work of Jesus.  Who will save us?  It must be Christ.  Someone of infinite worth must perfectly please the Father, bear the just wrath of the Father for the sins of the world, and somehow transfer His perfect righteousness to God’s people.  God Himself must save if there is to be redemption.

The Bible is consistent that man’s condition has cosmic implications.  In the beginning, when man was in right relationship to God, the physical universe was right.  With man in rebellion, the universe is physically out of kilter.  Ezekiel is promised a time when God’s people will again be in right relationship with Him and all will be right.

28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you.

30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.

31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.

32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

Here is more strong language.  Loathe yourselves and be ashamed.  This is not meant to send God’s people into an emotional black funk, but rather to cause us to think constantly of the astonishing kindness God shows us in Christ.  Every sin of every believing person past, present, and future is under the blood of the Lamb, not remembered by God.  God has sprinkled His own with clean water … and that work ought never be treated as ordinary.  If we never recall or mourn over our sin, we will soon treat Christ’s work as practically inconsequential and grace as cheap.  We must remember and loathe our sin.

33 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.

34 And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by.

35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’

36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.

37 “Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock.

38 Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

Again, there is blessing for God’s people, and the fundamental end here is God’s own glory, that all people and all creatures in the universe will recognize His greatness and live in harmony with His perfect character.  In the short run, God is promising that He’s not done with His people Judah.  Despite how utterly dark and hopeless things seem, release is coming.  The same God who redeemed Israel from Egypt, will bring Judah back from the Babylonian captivity.  In the long run, history is linear.  It began with God’s creation of a perfect world, was broken and made miserable through the fall, and at the time Ezekiel speaks, creation has been groaning and aching for a Deliverer for thousands of years.  Ezekiel is promised that the story isn’t over, that redemption is coming, that figuratively there will be a return to Eden.

Now God gives Ezekiel a striking vision of what He will do, of what He plans for the nation of Israel and what ultimately He plans for all believers of all time.

Ezekiel 37:1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.

Ezekiel is in a valley.  The word here is the same as the one translated “plain” in 3:22.  It’s possible/probable that Ezekiel is in the same place he was when God’s word of judgment on Judah first came to him.  This scene is ghastly.  It looks as if there had been some ancient battle here and the dead bodies of the fallen have decomposed and been ripped apart by scavengers.  Ezekiel is surrounded by piles of body parts.

2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.

There were very many.  There are lots of dead folks represented here.  And they’re real dead, not just mostly dead, all dead.  The bones were very dry.  There is complete desolation here.  The whole of Judah/Israel here is without hope.  All humanity is without hope, slain by sin and torn apart … except for God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

Can these bones live?  The obvious answer would be “no.”  Humanly speaking, the situation of Israel/Judah, the situation of all men and women ever born, the situation of these bones is hopeless.  These bones cannot live.  Ezekiel is both humble and honest here.  He doesn’t have all the answers.  He knows that God is sovereign over life and death and it is only God who knows most things.  He doesn’t presume to say they will live, but implicitly testifies that they could live.

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

Ezekiel is to speak to the bones, to speak to them the word of the LORD.  From a natural point of view he’s been told to do something pretty silly.  But God asks obedience and Ezekiel does his part as a servant of God.

5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

The word translated “breath” here by ESV is the Hebrew word “ruah” which can mean breath/Spirit/wind.  It is the same word that is used twice in Genesis 2:7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. This same word appears repeatedly in the next few verses, and gets translated by the ESV in different ways at those appearances.  But underneath breath/Spirit/wind are all the same Hebrew, “ruah.”

6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

And you shall know that I am the LORD (I am the I AM).  The object/end of all human existence is that we know that the LORD is God and that we know Him, that we are loved by and love Him.  Again, the chief end of the restoration that God is sending is that He be honored.

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.

This is a wild scene, something that today we’d expect to be cooked up through computer-generated special effects … dry bones flying together, sinews and flesh appearing out of nowhere … called into existence by the Creator of the universe.  But there was no breath in them.  Much as at creation, where God formed Adam from the dust, when there was no life/breath/spirit in him until God breathed it into him.  We’re seeing pictured here the creation of new humans … humans with hearts for God!  And the starting point is not completely new material, but dry dead bones.  He could begin afresh, but He does not.  He begins with the wreckage of ruined humanity.  There are two stages.  In this first, God has made bodies from dead bones.  But there is no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”

Prophesy to the breath/wind/spirit, son of man, and say to it, “Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath …”  There’s a lot of air needed here and God sends it rushing in from all directions.  There is an abundance … and where God’s breath is sent, there is life.  The lifeless human forms live.  We ought to be reminded here of the rushing wind on the day of Pentecost.  This is a prefiguring of that great act that inaugurated and empowered the Christian church.

10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

They came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army.  A few moments ago, this was a bunch of dead dry bones.  Then there were bodies without any real life.  Now there is a something worthy to be called an army, a vast army at that, through the work of the breath/spirit/wind of God.

English theologian John B. Taylor said about this scene, “What is the significance of the two stages?  The difference between them is surely to be found in the direction of Ezekiel’s prophesying; first to the bones, telling them to hear, and secondly to the Spirit, invoking its inspiration. The first must have seemed to Ezekiel very much like his professional occupation, exhorting lifeless people to listen to God’s word.  The effect was limited: true, something remarkable hap­pened, but the hearers were still dead men.  The second action was praying, as Ezekiel besought the Spirit of God to effect the miracle of re-creation, to breathe into man’s nostrils the breath of life (cf. Genesis. 2:7).  This time the effect was devastating.  What preaching by itself failed to achieve, prayer made a reality.”[1]

11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’

Ezekiel isn’t left guessing here about the short term meaning of what he’s been shown.  The northern kingdom is gone and Jerusalem has fallen.  What’s left of the nation is in captivity and as good as dead.  As far as the captives can see there’s no hope left.  But that’s not what God says.  Instead, says the I AM, there waits for them a future restoration where the nation will be a vast army dedicated to God.

12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.

The figure changes somewhat from dried bones to a graveyard, but the promise remains that God is not done with His people Israel.

13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.

14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

Paul tells us plainly in Romans that God is not yet finished with physical Israel, that in the end the Jewish people will turn to Christ, their Messiah.  They will come to eternal life and the end of such restoration will be the glory of God.  All the world will know and honor His greatness.

As we begin 2017, some 2600 years or so since these wonderful prophecies came through Ezekiel, what applications can we draw from the passage?  Here are a few that occur to me.  I am sure the same Spirit that gave life to the bodies in the valley will bring others to your minds as well, as you dwell on this Word.

First, let us constantly remind ourselves of what really matters.  It is the honor of God that is at the center of this passage.  It is the honor of God that is at the center of existence.  Let us mediate on the truth that there is real horror and misery when our actions profane His name, make Him out to be ordinary, portray Him as anything less than of supreme worth.

Second, let us always live profoundly grateful for the Gospel.  Let us see ourselves as formerly dead and dry bones on the valley floor slain by sin and without hope.  As we abhor our remaining sin, let us wonder at Christ who bore the wrath of God in our place and by His Spirit gives us pardon and real life.  Let us fill our minds and hearts with Christ and His matchless grace.

Third, let us always take heart and remind ourselves that no matter how bleak any circumstance in this life, the God of the Bible makes dry bones live.  Let us live cheerful lives, full of the promise of a blessed eternity in the presence of the Giver of life.  He orders existence.  He works only for real good.  Let us rest in Him.

Finally, in our evangelism, in our declaration of the Gospel of Christ, let us keep the vision of Ezekiel before us.  Let us be realistic about the real situation as we interact with neighbors and coworkers and family.  We walk about among dead bones.  There is no real life at all in those with hearts hard towards Christ.  And no amount of strategy or formula or cleverness or organization on our part can replace a single heart of stone with one of flesh, none of these can make the bones live.  That transformation depends rather upon two: the Word of God and the Spirit of God.  In all humility and gentleness, let us therefore tell people the truth about Christ and let us plead for their souls in prayer.  Like Ezekiel, may we speak to the bones and plead with the Spirit/breath/wind.

Thanks be to God for His gracious Word and the work of His Spirit.

[1] John B. Taylor, (1969).  Ezekiel, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Inter-Varsity Press, Downer’s Grove, IL, p. 235.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Ezekiel 47:13-23

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Last half of Ezekiel 47 describes the division of a future restored land of Israel among a complete people of God (including tribes that have already in Ezekiel’s time passed out of existence–having been carried off and dispersed by the conquering Assyrians–and even believing gentiles). The details of the exact boundaries are probably not so important except that they are concrete and exact and at God’s choice alone. (They are different from boundaries of the tribal regions given to Moses.)

Ezekiel 47:13 Thus says the Lord GOD: “This is the boundary by which you shall divide the land for inheritance among the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph shall have two portions.

The Levites are given no land, and to keep the number of portions at a full/complete “12” portions, Ephraim and Manasseh are given separate allotments.

14 And you shall divide equally what I swore to give to your fathers. This land shall fall to you as your inheritance.

The word “equally” is important in the eternal scheme of things. God’s future provision will not be subject to the politics and gerrymandering that is standard human fare. All will be treated on the same basis. And what is done will be consistent with God’s oaths to the patriarchs. We ought to hear something bigger and beyond division of land here. This is the nature of a future eternity. All who are saved will come to God on the same basis of Christ.

15 “This shall be the boundary of the land: On the north side, from the Great Sea by way of Hethlon to Lebo-hamath, and on to Zedad,

16 Berothah, Sibraim (which lies on the border between Damascus and Hamath), as far as Hazer-hatticon, which is on the border of Hauran.

17 So the boundary shall run from the sea to Hazar-enan, which is on the northern border of Damascus, with the border of Hamath to the north. This shall be the north side.

18 “On the east side, the boundary shall run between Hauran and Damascus; along the Jordan between Gilead and the land of Israel; to the eastern sea and as far as Tamar. This shall be the east side.

19 “On the south side, it shall run from Tamar as far as the waters of Meribah-kadesh, from there along the Brook of Egypt to the Great Sea. This shall be the south side.

20 “On the west side, the Great Sea shall be the boundary to a point opposite Lebo-hamath. This shall be the west side.

21 “So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel.

Ethnic Israel was the original people of promise. To this point, it seems that God has been speaking of future provision for that people. But in a way goes way beyond anything most devout Jews would have expected, God goes on.

22 You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.

The provision, the promise, the future is not just for the ethic people, but also for sojourners who “reside among you and have had children among you.” This is gentiles who come to God as do Jews who properly worship Him, who love Him and have faith in Him. This is more than just hanging around, this is participation in the genuine spiritual life of God’s elect. And those who come to the light have the same place in eternity as those “born into” real Faith.

23 In whatever tribe the sojourner resides, there you shall assign him his inheritance, declares the Lord GOD.

So, consistent with His eternal promises God will in the end treat with equity His peoples that to human reckoning are completely obliterated. His people will be complete, figuratively speaking all 12 tribes will be there. And outsiders, sojourners, ones not originally counted among the chosen people will have a part! Gentiles like most of us, will be in the number of true Israel. There will be religious purity but ethnic diversity.

The apostle Paul saw this and gloried in it.

Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

Ephesians 3:6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The last sentence of the book of Ezekiel is a definitive description of the final state of the redeemed.

Eze 48:35b And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The LORD Is There.”

The end of history, the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him eternally. God is eternally with His people. This is the Bible story from beginning to end. God will have a people who are His and reflect His glory, and He will dwell eternally with them.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Ezekiel 47:1-12

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson concerns the first 12 verses from Ezekiel 47. It’s important to hold them in perspective regarding Ezekiel’s prophecy, regarding the short run situation, regarding the New Testament, and regarding eternity.

In Ezekiel 11 the prophet spoke of God’s judgment on the leaders and prominent people of Israel. That word came to Ezekiel in Babylon on September 17, 592 BC. On that day, Ezekiel was given a vision of the glory of the LORD passing out, first of the temple area through the east gate (where the movers and shakers were busy discussing real estate), and then out of Jerusalem to hover over the Mount of Olives. In intervening chapters and years Ezekiel has prophesied to the exiles, promising a real shepherd for them, promising new hearts, hearts of flesh not stone, for God’s own glory, not theirs. He’s prophesied about new life to dead bones, to dead dead bones, this, while the exiles are in Babylon and Jerusalem and the temple have been laid waste, the destruction coming in 586 BC.

The vision that begins in Chapter 40 comes April 28, 573 BC, some 19 years after Ezekiel sees the glory of the LORD leave the temple by the east gate. It’s not until 539 BC, yet some 34 years after this vision we’re looking at, that Cyrus the Persian takes Babylon and tells the Jews to go home to rebuild. And the rebuilding of the Temple isn’t finished until 516 BC. There were rough days in the 23 years between the decree of Cyrus and the finishing of the temple. Even the ones who returned to build despaired and were ready to throw in the towel. Haggai on October 17, 520 BC said

Haggai 2:6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.

7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts.

8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts.

9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.'”

So surely on the date of this vision, there is absolutely no evidence to the natural mind that anything good is in store for God’s people. The remnant is in Babylon and Jerusalem is in ruins. But in Chapter 43 we’ve seen the LORD send him an angel to show Ezekiel a future Jerusalem and a future temple, and Ezekiel has seen the glory of the LORD come from the east and fill the temple. There can be no doubt that ultimately Ezekiel was seeing what John spoke of in Revelation.

Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

It’s in this context that we consider the verses of chapter 47. The angel has been showing Ezekiel around a future temple, perhaps in the short run and concretely, a rebuilt Jerusalem temple, but most truly and fully, a heaven in which God is in the midst of those who truly love Him.

Ezekiel 47:1 Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.

So Ezekiel is at the temple and sees this spring of water, flowing east. It’s flowing from the near the altar, from where man is made right with a holy God by sacrifice. And there is a stream originating there. The “sons of Korah” saw this stream before Ezekiel:

Psalm 46:1 To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.

6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth.

9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

John the apostle saw this river long after Ezekiel.

 Revelation 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb

2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

Jeremiah knew that God alone is the fountain of living water.

Jeremiah 17:13 O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water.

In John 4, Jesus told the woman at the well that He is the source of living water.

Ezekiel 47:2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.

Ezekiel has been led out the north gate because the east gate is shut, because the LORD has entered by it.

Ezekiel 44:1 Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut.

2 And the LORD said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut.

Presumably the implication is that His entry is final. Neither He nor another will exit by that gate again. Ezekiel sees the water flowing outside the city. The first appearance may be that the source is not so big. The water only trickles. But that’s not really the way things are.

Ezekiel 47:3 Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep.

The angel leads Ezekiel away from the city toward the east. And 500 meters from the city he’s ankle deep in water. What seemed like a trickle is really a substantial flow.

4 Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep.

500 meters further, it is up to Ezekiel’s knees. 500 meters further, it’s up to his waist.

5 Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.

2 km away from the city, the river is both deep enough and fast moving enough that it’s impassable. It’s more than a human can negotiate on his or her own. What initially seemed small is a torrent. Notice that there are no tributaries here. There is only once source, and that is God Himself.

6 And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river.

7 As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other.

In revelation John sees the tree of life on both sides of the river. Ezekiel sees many trees on both sides. It’s reminiscent of the Garden before the Fall.

8 And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.

The water is flowing out of Jerusalem through the dry region between it and the Dead Sea, and it’s no ordinary water. Ordinary water doesn’t make salt water fresh. But this is the work of God alone, to make what’s dead live.

9 And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.

Everything will live where the river goes. The picture is one of superabundance, things as they were meant to be from creation.

10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.

The Dead Sea will be productive like the Sea of Galilee.

11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt.

This too has no natural explanation. While the water is fresh, yet there are salt marshes.

12 And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”

There will be constant fruit. John saw 12 kinds, yielding every month. Ezekiel saw “much” fresh fruit every month. All of this is flowing from the presence of God. There is plenty and healing, things as they were meant to be from the beginning of time. This is God’s doing.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Ezekiel 43:13-27

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is the second of four lessons from the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel has seen a vision of the return of the LORD to a future perfect temple, to dwell in the midst of His people. He’s next given a vision of the altar in this future temple and instruction concerning it.

Ezekiel 43:13 “These are the measurements of the altar by cubits (the cubit being a cubit and a handbreadth): its base shall be one cubit high and one cubit broad, with a rim of one span around its edge. And this shall be the height of the altar:

14 from the base on the ground to the lower ledge, two cubits, with a breadth of one cubit; and from the smaller ledge to the larger ledge, four cubits, with a breadth of one cubit;

15 and the altar hearth, four cubits; and from the altar hearth projecting upward, four horns.

16 The altar hearth shall be square, twelve cubits long by twelve broad.

17 The ledge also shall be square, fourteen cubits long by fourteen broad, with a rim around it half a cubit broad, and its base one cubit all around. The steps of the altar shall face east.”

This is pretty big, probably somewhat bigger than the altar of Solomon’s temple and much bigger than the original altar of the tabernacle. Unlike the original tabernacle altar, where steps were specifically forbidden (see Exodus 20:26) this is big enough to require steps to reach the top. These steps are “to face east,” the direction from which the LORD has entered Jerusalem and the temple in Ezekiel’s vision. It seems likely to me that this detail is a reminder that all of is God’s doing. It’s all at His initiative. He’s the only One really qualified to make sacrifice (to Himself) for mankind at such a perfect altar.

Now Ezekiel is given instructions for purification of this altar. What he’s shown stands in contrast to the impurity of the worship that led to the fall of Judah and the Babylonian captivity. There is to be a means of effective acceptable sacrifice, and that means will be utterly pure.

18 And he said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord GOD: These are the ordinances for the altar: On the day when it is erected for offering burnt offerings upon it and for throwing blood against it,

19 you shall give to the Levitical priests of the family of Zadok, who draw near to me to minister to me, declares the Lord GOD, a bull from the herd for a sin offering.

20 And you shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar and on the four corners of the ledge and upon the rim all around. Thus you shall purify the altar and make atonement for it.

This is a bloody thing. It is serious. It is life and death. Hebrews 9:22 says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. In this vision, the altar is to be marked and purified with blood, and in its function there are to be burnt offerings and blood thrown against it.

The “horns” are on the corners at the top of the altar and such are mentioned specifically in the consecration of the tabernacle altar. When Adonijah rebels against Solomon and fears for his life, he runs to the altar and hold onto the horns, pleading for mercy. It seems like they may represent the very focus of atoning work done at the altar.

21 You shall also take the bull of the sin offering, and it shall be burned in the appointed place belonging to the temple, outside the sacred area.

22 And on the second day you shall offer a male goat without blemish for a sin offering; and the altar shall be purified, as it was purified with the bull.

23 When you have finished purifying it, you shall offer a bull from the herd without blemish and a ram from the flock without blemish.

24 You shall present them before the LORD, and the priests shall sprinkle salt on them and offer them up as a burnt offering to the LORD.

25 For seven days you shall provide daily a male goat for a sin offering; also, a bull from the herd and a ram from the flock, without blemish, shall be provided.

26 Seven days shall they make atonement for the altar and cleanse it, and so consecrate it.

These sacrifices are a one time matter. Again, they stand in contrast to the impure unacceptable “worship” that ended in judgment and exile for God’s people. They represent a purity that is completely “other.” What Ezekiel is seeing is not just a vision where humans get it right if they get another chance and follow proper ritual. It simply has to be more than that, since it is plain that such will never suffice for any of us individually or for a people corporately. We need a purity from outside.

Christ is all of this that we desperately need. He is the Sacrifice. He is the Priest and Intermediary. He is the pure and perfect Atonement for our sin. All that is pure and acceptable about Ezekiel’s vision, about this altar He is.

27 And when they have completed these days, then from the eighth day onward the priests shall offer on the altar your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, and I will accept you, declares the Lord GOD.”

Here is the most precious and important phrase “I will accept you.” This breath-taking vision Ezekiel is having is surely one of awesome holiness and “otherness.” But God is not there simply to remind His people of their unacceptability in and of themselves. He’s there to be with them, to have fellowship with them. Christopher Wright, in his commentary on Ezekiel says of this phrase, “This is the language of love, of welcome, of warmth and of invitation. This word smiles at us and greets us with open arms. The altar was the place that actualized that invitation.”

How it is that this awesome holy God will bring this to pass must be a mystery to Ezekiel. But the real and effective altar that he sees is a picture that by His initiative, the Lord God will provide righteousness for His people and be permanently among them. Thanks be to Christ!

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Ezekiel 43:1-12

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is the first of four lessons from the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a prophet to the people of Judah in exile in Babylon. In the first parts of the book, he has “bad news” for the people regarding the necessity of judgment and the fact that there will be no immediate relief from exile. He records several awesome visions of God, beginning with his call in Chapter 1, and a vision of the LORD leaving Jerusalem in Chapter 10. The LORD instructs him in a number of very public symbolic prophetic acts (including the famous lying on his side for 390 days as a picture of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem). He speaks prophecies against the evil of both God’s people and the surrounding nations.

Chapter 37 is then the famous “dry bones” chapter and a vision of God’s restoration of His people, bringing life where there is none. Chapters 38-48 describe God’s setting things right and revealing His glory both among the nations and more specifically again among His chosen people.

Chapter 43 describes Ezekiel’s vision of God’s return to the Jerusalem temple and some of its implications.

Ezekiel 43:1 Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east.

Ezekiel has been having a tour of a future new and more perfect temple in Jerusalem (Solomon’s temple having been destroyed by the Babylonians) guided by an angel. Now that angel takes him to the east gate.

2 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.

This is 19 years or so after Ezekiel’s call and his vision of God leaving Jerusalem. It’s 12 years or so after the arrival in Babylon of the news of the destruction of the fall of Jerusalem. This has surely been a trying time for Ezekiel, but here in this vision, God comes in awesome majesty and power, returning to His people. The misery of exile and Jerusalem in rubble must seem completely swallowed up in glory.

3 And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face.

This is the same God that called Ezekiel and he’s overwhelmed at His awesome presence and complete holiness. Humans are not in God’s class, and Ezekiel is acutely aware of that truth and he prostrates himself on the ground.

4 As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east,

5 the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple.

As the visible presence of the Creator and Sustainer of all that is returns to Jerusalem, Ezekiel is given an aerial view of a new perfected temple and courtyard, and sees and hears what had been seen when the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40) and Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8 and 2 Chronicles 5). He sees and hears very much what was seen and heard on the Day of Pentecost when the Glory of the LORD came to rest on Christ’s church.

6 While the man was standing beside me, I heard one speaking to me out of the temple,

God interprets for Ezekiel the significance of the vision. The promise is that God will dwell permanently among a holy people. He’s not seeing here Zerubbabel’s temple (built after the exile). He’s seeing something far more lasting and far more important and far more grand.

7 and he said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever. And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoring and by the dead bodies of their kings at their high places,

This permanent dwelling will be characterized by the holiness of the people. There will be no more coming short of the holy character of God. There will be no more idolatry. There will be no more false religion.

Some of the kings of Judah had been buried on Mount Zion and it seems that there may even have been idols raised to some of them. That’s inconsistent with a right understanding of the real grandeur of the God of the Bible. Ezekiel is promised a “temple” and a time and a people where none of that will be present.

8 by setting their threshold by my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them. They have defiled my holy name by their abominations that they have committed, so I have consumed them in my anger.

The royal palaces had encroached on the temple space on Mount Zion. That physical situation was a symptom and picture of the reality that the hearts of God’s people were not wholly His. They were trusting as much in politics and international alliances as in God. They cared more for wealth and comfort than for holy religion and obedience to the real King.

9 Now let them put away their whoring and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst forever.

If God is to dwell with His people, these things can’t be. God will not abide apostasy. He will be with His people forever, but not under these standard human conventions. There is a real problem here outside of the saving and sanctifying work of Christ. This future temple (that can only be Christ’s church) must be holy. And we don’t have it in us to live up to or generate this perfection in and of ourselves.

10 “As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan.

The necessity is complete holiness. We ought to have grief and shame for our unholiness. Ezekiel can’t know at this point the full plan of God for the salvation of humanity. But he is to preach repentance.

11 And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out.

Ezekiel is to let the people know the glorious holy nature of God’s dwelling with man. Where there are soft hearts and is sorrow for sin, the people will have to throw themselves on His mercy.

12 This is the law of the temple: the whole territory on the top of the mountain all around shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the temple.

And the extent of this is even beyond what Ezekiel has seen. It’s not to be that only the Holy of Holies is most holy. Rather all of it, what was temple territory and what was “secular” territory, all of it is to be most holy. God’s dwelling with His people will not be some thing limited to very special locations and circumstances, it will be pervasive. All of existence for His redeemed people will ultimately be most holy and full of His Glory.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.