Welcome to the Promised Land

Text Ezekiel 46-48 Time 22/02/09 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

I want us to look this morning at the three final chapters of the prophecy of Ezekiel where Ezekiel's vision of a new Temple and of a new Promised Land comes to its climax. We have already acknowledged that these are difficult chapters to read and understand. We did make the point though that you don't need to understand them in order to be saved. Salvation itself is very easy to understand – turn from your sins to Christ - trust in him and all will be well. That's why even children can be saved. There is a depth and a wisdom in Christ, however, and here we have one of the deeper parts of Scripture. If we have been Christians any length of time we should be ready to consider its lessons. All Scripture is to be studied and learned from, however, and it is right that we give attention to Ezekiel's vision.
Another point we have already made is that one of our difficulties here is that Ezekiel writes very much in Old Testament terms, terms that we are often not familiar with. However, his vision is of the future, a now partly present future, one that we can know today.
I don't know if you're thinking about taking a holiday next summer. When planning such things people often look at tourist brochures and books describing the place they might go to. We can think of these chapters (40-48) as being something like that. Here is a description of a wonderful land, a land that you can come to and indeed live in. Some of you live in that land. Some of you don't. I want to say welcome to that land today – Welcome to the Promised Land!
So far we've considered Chapters 40-45. In those chapters Ezekiel has described the Temple area and the new Temple itself and the return of God's once departed glory to the Temple, never to leave again. We've also had the restoration of the altar and the priesthood and the offerings. In Chapter 44 he begins to describe the allotment of the new Promised Land but only gets as far as describing the central portion of the Land which is to be a sacred district. We then learn about the restoration of the offerings, which continues into Chapter 46. In Chapter 47 we learn about the river of life that flows from the Temple and the boundaries of the new land. Then in Chapter 48 he describes the distribution of the land among the tribes and the new city with its 12 gates.
The vision then is of a new land, a land for God's own people. It speaks ultimately of heaven but also of a wonderful land that is already here. The language is highly symbolic and it's clear that what is envisaged is not a place as such but God's spiritual kingdom. There are at least five things to say then
1. Welcome to a land where God is worshipped
As we've said Chapter 46 really carries on from where Chapter 45 leaves off. We made the point last week that the worship of God must be taken seriously. In kingdom terms we can speak of a land where God is worshipped. Again it is put in Old Testament terms. Chapter 45 speaks of various offerings including Passover and Tabernacles. Here we come on to Sabbaths, New Moons and other offerings. So we say welcome to a land
1. Where God is worshipped regularly
In verse 1 God says of the Temple The gate of the inner court facing east (not the outer gate that was permanently closed – Chapter 44 – but the inner one) is to be shut on the six working days, but on the Sabbath day and on the day of the New Moon it is to be opened. We're told that The prince (2, 3) who we've identified with the Messiah or Christ is to enter from the outside through the portico of the gateway and stand by the gatepost. The priests are to sacrifice his burnt offering and his fellowship offerings. He is to worship at the threshold of the gateway and then go out, but the gate will not be shut until evening. On the Sabbaths and New Moons the people of the land are to worship in the presence of the LORD at the entrance to that gateway. In verses 4-7 The burnt offerings the prince is to bring to the LORD on the Sabbath day and the day of the New Moon are itemised - 6 male lambs and a ram, all without defect and grain offerings each Sabbath and a young bull, 6 lambs and a ram, all without defect with grain offerings once a month. We are presented then with a Temple where Prince and people are regularly worshipping God. This is how it should be with us. Every morning, every evening, weekly, monthly – giving praise to God led by Christ himself.
2. Where the Prince is with his people
Verse 10 is interesting The prince is to be among them, going in when they go in and going out when they go out. The prince is their leader and yet he worships with them. You remember how Jesus spoke to his disciples after his resurrection of ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God. When we meet together in Jesus' name we worship Christ and yet he is also with us as we worship God. Indeed it is through him that we come to God.
There is a further note in verse 11 before we go on to more detail about offerings in verses 12 and on. We read that When the prince provides a freewill offering to the LORD of any sort the gate facing east is to be opened for him. He shall offer his burnt offering or his fellowship offerings as he does on the Sabbath day. Then he shall go out, and after he has gone out, the gate will be shut. Verse 13 Every day you are to provide a year-old lamb without defect for a burnt offering to the LORD; morning by morning you shall provide it. Grain offerings are again to accompany it. Again it evokes the coming of Jesus into our assemblies and leading the worship. That is how it should be when we meet like this.
3. Where the Prince does not oppress the people
There is also a note in verses 16-18 about the prince and inherited property rights. Again the phrase His inheritance belongs to his sons only; it is theirs is a pregnant one for believers who are God's sons. Verse 18 reads The prince must not take any of the inheritance of the people, driving them off their property. He is to give his sons their inheritance out of his own property, so that none of my people will be separated from his property. How tender and loving and kind the Lord Jesus is to those who are in him.
4. Where practical matters are taken care of
In verses 8 and 9 we have some traffic directions! It says that When the prince enters, he is to go in through the portico of the gateway, and he is to come out the same way and adds that When the people of the land come before the LORD at the appointed feasts, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out by the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out by the north gate. No-one is to return through the gate by which he entered, but each is to go out by the opposite gate. With such vast numbers practical arrangements like this become important. Often in Mecca people die in the large crowds that are sometimes not very well organised.
Finally (again very practically) in verses 19-24 Ezekiel is shown the kitchens (20) the place where the priests will cook the guilt offering and the sin offering and bake the grain offering, to avoid bringing them into the outer court and consecrating the people. Ezekiel sees that there are four of these – one in each corner. It doesn't make interesting reading but is typical of the very thorough and exact way everything is dealt with here.
Obviously to worship God involves thinking through and acting on some very practical matters. We don't need kitchens today although a cup of tea or even a meal after the meeting can be a help. It does help to have hymn books and Bibles and comfortable chairs and light and heat. We need to get here on time too and concentrate while we are here.
2. Welcome to a land that God has abundantly blessed
As we come into Chapter 47 Ezekiel describes how The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and says Ezekiel I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side.
Ezekiel is then led eastward by the man who makes measurements as they go (3-6). First they are ankle-deep in water, then knee-deep, then up to the waist and finally we read but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in - a river that no one could cross. He asked me, Son of man, do you see this? Then he led me back to the bank of the river.
There Ezekiel sees (7) a great number of trees on each side of the river. He's told that the water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds - like the fish of the Great Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.
It is a wonderful picture of great variety and abundance. This is the language that John picks up on when he describes heaven in the last book of the Bible. It is a theme throughout Scripture, beginning with well watered Eden and going on through the streams within Jerusalem of Psalm 46 and on to John 7:37-39 where we read how On the last and greatest day of the Feast, (of Tabernacles where there was a daily ceremony where water was poured out) Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. John explains By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. The Spirit was poured out though on the day of Pentecost and it is the Spirit now who is at work bringing more and more people to the Lord. In the early years the gospel was ankle deep, then knee deep and now it is a great river and there are all sorts of fruits being produced buy the Spirit and the nations are being healed. What glorious things are happening even in our own day! You are welcome to be part of it.
3. Welcome to a land that's large enough for all
Next we read about the boundaries of the land in verses 13-20. The boundaries of the land varied over the years. At this point, of course, Israel had none of it. The boundaries here are – on the west, the Mediterranean and on the east the Jordan and the Dead Sea. The northern and southern borders are harder to follow but are well to the north and to the south. There is nothing east of the Jordan. Again this is symbolic – a symmetrical land, a clearly defined one. In verses 21-23 God says You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and note this for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance, declares the Sovereign LORD. There is room enough then – not just for Israel but for any alien who wishes to join them. On the Statue of Liberty in New York (inside the pedestal) is a poem on a bronze plaque. It concludes with Liberty speaking and saying
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! cries she
With silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Whether it is so easy to get in to America today we certainly say welcome to all to this land, to the kingdom of God. Come to Jesus Christ. Come into his kingdom.
4. Welcome to a land that's ready for God's people
Then in Chapter 48 we come to the division of the land. Again it is highly symbolic. Whereas in the past some tribes had large areas, some smaller, here it is more regimented and equal. Each tribe gets an equally broad west to east strip. (1-7) First Dan, then Asher, then Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, Judah. Then in verses 23-39 the remaining allotments are given – Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar and Zebulun. Verse 29 This is the land you are to allot as an inheritance to the tribes of Israel, and these will be their portions, declares the Sovereign LORD.
Verses 8-22 recap on the sacred district spoken of before in Chapter 44. In the centre of it we read will be the sanctuary of the LORD. It is for the consecrated priests, the Zadokites, who were faithful in serving me and did not go astray as the Levites did when the Israelites went astray. There is also land for the Levites. We read (14) They must not sell or exchange any of it. This is the best of the land and must not pass into other hands, because it is holy to the LORD. There will also be land for the Prince. This where the holy city will be, which he speaks about at the very end.
There is the land then ready for the people – there is a place for every tribe and at the heart of it all the sacred portion for the worship of God. That is how it is in God's kingdom. Come take your place. It's ready. Come worship God. Know the blessings the Prince can give you.
5. Welcome to a land where the Lord dwells
Have you ever heard of the Rev Gary Davis? He was a blind blues singer. He sang a song that goes like this

Oh, what a beautiful city (3)
Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah
And it's oh, what a beautiful
Oh, Oh Lord, what a beautiful city
Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah

There's three gates in the East
There's three gates in the West
There's three gates in the North
There's three gates in the South
That makes twelve gates to the city, hallelujah
And it's oh, what a beautiful
Oh, Oh Lord, what a beautiful city
Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah

Oh Lord, what a beautiful city
Oh, Oh Lord, what a beautiful city
Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah
If you see my dear old mother
Won't you do this favour for me
Won't you please tell my mother
To meet me in Galilee. Etc.

It seems to make little sense. "What you talkin' 'bout?" he asks. Well, it's here in the final verses of Ezekiel (30-35)
These will be the exits of the city: Beginning on the north side, which is 4,500 cubits long, the gates of the city will be named after the tribes of Israel. The 3 gates on the north side will be the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah and the gate of Levi. On the east side, which is 4,500 cubits long, will be 3 gates: the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin and the gate of Dan. On the south side, which measures 4,500 cubits, will be 3 gates: the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar and the gate of Zebulun. On the west side, which is 4,500 cubits long, will be 3 gates: the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher and the gate of Naphtali. Again symbolic – no Ephraim and Manasseh. Point is there is access for all though. The distance all around will be 18,000 cubits. And the name of the city from that time on will be: The LORD is There.
It is speaking about heaven, of course, as in Revelation. But even now God is with his people – in their hearts, in their midst as they worship. Not just a Tabernacle or Temple now but Immanuel, God with us. The Christian as the Holy Sprit within. When he meets with God's people God is in the midst. That is how it is for the believer. God is with him. What glory!

Further Principles of Holy Living

Text Ezekiel 45 Time 15/02/09 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

We are looking at the final chapters of Ezekiel. These are difficult chapters to read and to understand. As we have said, one of our difficulties with these chapters is that though they are speaking chiefly of the New Covenant or New Testament era in which we now live, they are written entirely in language and forms appropriate to the Old Covenant or Old Testament period. We suggested last time that it's a little like the difference between how a child might express himself and how an adult would or how you might write for a child and how you might write for an adult.
In Ezekiel 45, Ezekiel is writing about the dividing up of the Promised Land, about ephahs and baths and shekels and about sacrifices and offerings and Passover – but once again he is really talking about the holiness of God's people. So many things have changed since Ezekiel's day but, as we said before, both as individual Christians and corporately as God's people, we are to be a holy priesthood and temple.
Last time we spoke from Chapter 44 of four important principles in the matter of holiness – we spoke of a closed door principle, an exclusion principle, and idolatry principle and a priestly principle. This week we want to speak from Chapter 45 of three more important principles of holiness. I remind you that without holiness no-one will see God. We must get this right. These three principles will help us.
1. The centring principle - Keep central things at the centre
In the opening verses of Chapter 45 we begin on the allotting of the promised land. However, the bulk of this is not dealt with until Chapter 47. The first and chief concern is a strip of land that will occupy the Promised Land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan and that includes the city of Jerusalem where the Temple had always been. First, a general point is made and then three specific things are said about this strip of land. We can learn both from the fact that this is where the allotting of the Promised Land begins and from the particular sections that are to be included in this strip. In both cases there are some obvious applications for us today.
1. Consider the general point and the need to keep the Lord central.
The chapter begins with God saying (1) When you allot the land as an inheritance, you are to present to the LORD a portion of the land as a sacred district, 25,000 cubits long and 20,000 cubits wide; the entire area will be holy. At the heart of this new Promised Land then there is to be a large section of land (several miles long ad wide) that is the lord's and that is holy, a sacred district.
God's people are no longer expected to live in one part of the world but rather in every part. It is neither require nor something practicable to set apart holy districts. However, at the heart of every church and every individual life there must be, as it were, a part set off for God -
2. Consider the need to keep these important things central
1 Holy worship
2 Of this sacred district a section 500 cubits square is to be for the sanctuary, with 50 cubits around it for open land. A the heart of the heart of the Promised Land then was the Temple – the place where God was worshipped. @ Always at the the heart of our lives it must be God – at the centre of our thinking, of our living, of all we are and do. The same goes for church life and family life and community and national life. If only it were so.
2 Priestly service
3-5 In the sacred district, measure off a section 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits wide. In it will be the sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. It will be the sacred portion of the land for the priests, who minister in the sanctuary and who draw near to minister before the LORD. It will be a place for their houses as well as a holy place for the sanctuary. An area 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits wide will belong to the Levites, who serve in the temple, as their possession for towns to live in.
@ We have said before that all believers under the new covenant are priests. We must live as priests then. We must so arrange our lives that we can carry on all our priestly duties – prayer, praise, the sacrifice of life and strength – keeping these things always central.
3 People
Are you the sort of person ho has time for people? Do you have time for God's people? In 6 we read You are to give the city as its property an area 5,000 cubits wide and 25,000 cubits long, adjoining the sacred portion; it will belong to the whole house of Israel. We must find time for Christian fellowship – to encourage each other and help each other.
4 The Prince
7, 8a The prince will have the land bordering each side of the area formed by the sacred district and the property of the city. It will extend westward from the west side and eastward from the east side, running lengthwise from the western to the eastern border parallel to one of the tribal portions. This land will be his possession in Israel.
Not all agree on this but we have suggested that the Prince here points us to the Messiah. Again, Christ must be central in our lives as individuals, as families, as a nation, as a church. It is so easy to let other things (good things) become central. $ I like the Navigators' wheel – the various spokes are prayer, Bible intake, witness and fellowship but at the centre, at the hub, is Christ. It has to be that way. In church communion helps us, at home we need to read the Word and pray – alone and with our families, etc.
2. The honesty principle - Turn from violence and oppression and do what is just and right
Having mentioned the Prince in 8a it goes on And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the house of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes. That then leads into a section about doing what is just and right. This is also an obvious element in true holiness. All violence and oppression or anything like it must go and there must be honesty and integrity in its place. The pattern here is negative, positive, negative, positive.
9 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have gone far enough, O princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression
and do what is just and right.
Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign LORD.
10-12 You are to use accurate scales, an accurate ephah and an accurate bath. The ephah and the bath are to be the same size, the bath containing a tenth of a homer and the ephah a tenth of a homer; the homer is to be the standard measure for both. The shekel is to consist of 20 gerahs. Twenty shekels plus 25 shekels plus 15 shekels equal one mina.
It is the princes who are in the firing line here as they had a responsibility to make sure weights and measures were accurate. There is a responsibility on government in this area and we should be thankful to God that we live in a country where many of the more obvious abuses are not allowed to take place. Our weights and measures are carefully described and accurately kept. Further, weights have to be marked on certain goods, for example, and be accurate. There are still infringements, however, and dubious tricks. $ Manufacturers know that we realise sugar is not good for us and so when they list ingredients instead of putting sugar first they use different sugars (fructose, glucose, etc) and list them separately so that they come lower down the list! Such things must be guarded against.
@ Personally, we have to be very honest too and be determined not to take advantage of others. Honesty in every area of our lives is so important. Are we being fair and just and honest? Are we showing the integrity we ought to?
Cf Ephesians 4:22ff
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body. ... He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. ...Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
3. The worship principle - Take the worship of the Lord seriously and look to the Lord
The rest of the chapter talks about the various offerings in the Temple Ezekiel has described. The connection is again the Prince. He has a central role in it all. There is also a connection between weights and measures and the food that is to be used in sacrifice. We all need not only to be honest towards men but honest towards God and worship him. We must take worship seriously.
A number of points are made, firstly about a special gift for the Prince that all must make (13-17) and then about various feasts (18-25).
1. The special gift
This is specified as being (13) a sixth of an ephah from each homer both of wheat and ... barley. To this is added (14) The prescribed portion of oil, measured by the bath, is a tenth of a bath from each cor (which consists of 10 baths or one homer, for 10 baths are equivalent to a homer). Verse 15 Also one sheep is to be taken from every flock of 200 from the well-watered pastures of Israel.
These will be used for the grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the people, declares the Sovereign LORD. All the people of the land will participate in this special gift for the use of the prince in Israel.
A note is then added (17, 18) saying that It will be the duty of the prince to provide the burnt offerings, grain offerings and drink offerings at the festivals, the New Moons and the Sabbaths - at all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel. He will provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the house of Israel.
There is something reciprocal here then – the people must make a gift to the Prince but he is the one who provides the burnt offerings, grain offerings and drink offerings at the festivals, the New Moons and the Sabbaths - at all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel. He will provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the house of Israel.
We must make our lives living sacrifices to Christ it is true. It is often not easy to take up the cross and to follow him, to serve him faithfully as we should. It's hard at times. However, let's never forget that he is the one who provided the sacrifice to make atonement for us. We give him gifts – he gave himself. Glory to his name.
2. Sacrifices for three particular times of the year
These are specified in connection with what the Prince had to supply.
1 New year atonement for the temple
18-20 In the first month on the first day you are to take a young bull without defect and purify the sanctuary. The priest is to take some of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the temple, on the four corners of the upper ledge of the altar and on the gateposts of the inner court. You are to do the same on the seventh day of the month for anyone who sins unintentionally or through ignorance; so you are to make atonement for the temple.
2 Passover
21-24 In the first month on the fourteenth day you are to observe the Passover, a feast lasting 7 days, during which you shall eat bread made without yeast. On that day the prince is to provide a bull as a sin offering for himself and for all the people of the land. Every day during the 7 days of the Feast he is to provide 7 bulls and 7 rams without defect as a burnt offering to the LORD, and a male goat for a sin offering. He is to provide as a grain offering an ephah for each bull and an ephah for each ram, along with a hin of oil for each ephah.
3 Tabernacles/Shavuot
25 During the 7 days of the Feast, which begins in the seventh month on the fifteenth day, he is to make the same provision for sin offerings, burnt offerings, grain offerings and oil.
All such sacrifices remind us of the importance of holy worship. We must live lives of worship. They remind us of the seriousness of this solemn task. Above everything they remind us of the centrality of Christ's atoning sacrifice. Without him and his death we are sunk. Look to him then and worship him.

Four Principles for Holy Living

Text Ezekiel 44 Time 08/02/09 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

We've begun to look at the final chapters of Ezekiel. As we've said, these are difficult chapters simply to read and harder still to understand but this is God's Word and it is here to teach us, rebuke us, correct us and train us to be righteous. Romans 15:4 reminds us that everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. This includes Ezekiel 40-48 and Ezekiel's vision of a new and future ideal Temple, a new Jerusalem and a new Promised Land. In 44:5 Ezekiel says The LORD said to me, Son of man, look carefully, listen closely and give attention to everything I tell you concerning all the regulations regarding the temple of the LORD. Give attention to the entrance of the temple and all the exits of the sanctuary. This is what we must do too – as hard as it may seem.
One of our difficulties with these chapters is that though they are speaking chiefly of the New Covenant or Testament era in which we now live, they are written entirely in language and forms appropriate to the Old Covenant period. It's a little like the difference between how a child might express himself and how an adult would. When I was a child we were asked to write an essay about ourselves in school and I remember writing “My ambition is to visit every castle or historic monument in Britain”. I'd been around a few castles and stately homes as a boy and I liked that so I expressed myself in that way. Today I'd express myself differently. “I'm very interested in history”, “I find castles and other old buildings fascinating”. In a similar way here in Chapter 44 Ezekiel writes about a Temple – its gate, the Levites, the priests, etc – but what he's actually talking about is holiness, the holiness of God's people. The Temple in Jerusalem has now gone but both as individual Christians and corporately as God's people, we are to be, as it were, a temple and a priesthood – a holy priesthood and temple. These verses then, if we see them through the right lenses, as we may put it, teach us about holiness as individuals and as a company of God's people. There are four main principles to take note of.
1. The closed door and Prince principle
In Hue City, Vietnam, you can find the historic high-walled and dry-moated Royal Citadel. Access to the Imperial City within it is by means of four entrance gates. One of these, the Ngo Mon Gate, was used only for the King, it was exclusive to him. Such distinctions are made for kings. I think I've even heard of an entrance way being sealed up once a certain king had passed through it.
In the opening verse of Chapter 44, Ezekiel tell us that the angelic man leading him brought him back from the centre of the Temple to the outer gate of the sanctuary, the one facing east, and it was shut. We have talked about the altar then – the heart of the faith is Christ's cross. That's how we are saved. But we are going to think now about holiness – sanctification.
Ezeiel goes on (2) The LORD said to me, This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered through it as described in the previous chapter. He also says (3) The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the LORD. He is to enter by way of the portico of the gateway and go out the same way.
There are two pictures then. First, a closed gate – shut because God has come through it. Second, a prince eating in the gateway. People argue about who the prince is. In Chapter 45 it speaks of him making a sacrifice for himself, which makes some doubt that this could be Messiah. If we go back to Ezekiel 34:24 and 37:25, however, we read I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken. ... They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children will live there for ever, and David my servant will be their prince for ever. Such verses suggest that this one is also pointing to Messiah. As for the closed door – the point is that God, who had once departed from his temple has now returned never to leave again. No-one can come in from the outside but the prince may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the LORD. He comes and goes from within the Temple complex. In verse 4 we read how the man brought Ezekiel by way of the north gate to the front of the temple. Ezekiel says I looked and saw the glory of the LORD filling the temple of the LORD, and I fell facedown.
If we are believers, we are those who have known God gloriously coming into our lives and filling them. How wonderful when God comes in. It's similar when we think of the church. We can read in Acts 2 how at Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down with power on the people and they were all filled with the Spirit. Once we are believers the Lord Jesus, our Prince, rests with us and remains with us as he does in the church. It's because of these factors that we must have a closed door policy with regard to certain things. “God has come into my life” we say “Jesus Christ is here” so we have to be rather rigid and unco-operative at certain times - our doors are closed to other things. It's the same with churches. God has come in, we know his glory and his Christ is with us so our minds are closed to certain things. Do we have this attitude? Is there a closed door policy in your life?
2. The exclusion principle
Something similar comes out in verses 5-9. In verses 6-8 Ezekiel is told to remind the rebellious house of Israel of their wicked ways. Enough of your detestable practices, O house of Israel! God says. In particular he cites how, in addition to all their other detestable practices, they'd brought foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh into God's sanctuary, desecrating my temple while you offered me food, fat and blood, and you broke my covenant. Instead of carrying out your duty in regard to my holy things, you put others in charge of my sanctuary. This was why they'd been thrust into exile in Babylon. In future this was not to happen. God says (9) No foreigner uncircumcised in heart and flesh is to enter my sanctuary, not even the foreigners who live among the Israelites.
To our ears that may sound like simple racism but we must remember that God's intention was to form a nation for himself who would worship him and to whom would be born Messiah. The involvement of foreigners in Temple worship was not to be tolerated. That was how it was after the return from exile. You remember how careful Ezra and Nehemiah were about this, making people get rid of their foreign wives and so on.
We read these days about “no go areas”. Well, there were no go areas in the Temple in Jesus' day. In 1871 and again in 1935 notices were discovered that were originally placed in the outer court of the temple, the court of the Gentiles, and forbade foreigners (non-Jews) to go any further in. The one found in 1871, in Greek, reads “No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his death.”
Similarly today for churches and individual Christians there must be 'no go areas'. Exclusion is an important principle to maintain. That means that church membership can only be for Christians and if a church member lives in a way inconsistent with what they profess, then there must be discipline. They may even be put out of the church. It also means that as individuals we must practice what Jesus spoke of as "cutting off the right hand and gouging out the right eye". There must be a willingness to look at our lives and see what should not be there and then (however painful) to cut it out. With a cancer, surgeons will endeavour to cut it out of the body to save the body. Similarly, we must cut out all that is foreign to a life of worshipping God. Are we doing that?
3. The idolatry principle
From verse 10 we read about the Levites and how they were no better than the people and went far from God. They (10) must bear the consequences of their sin. God will show mercy – (11) They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and stand before the people and serve them. (14) They will be put in charge of the duties of the temple and all the work that is to be done in it. But (12, 13) because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the house of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin, says God. They are not to come near to serve me as priests or come near any of my holy things or my most holy offerings; they must bear the shame of their detestable practices.
When the leaders of God's people lead them into sin they must be punished. Mercy is important but there must be punishment.
In particular, the sin of idolatry is condemned here. Many Levites and priests had been willing to co-operate with the idolatrous practices of the kings and the people. Indeed, they sometimes led the way. It is a reminder of the evil of idolatry of any sort. As a church and as individuals we must be resolved to reject idolatry of all sorts. God must be first in our lives and nothing must replace that. We must never attempt to worship God except in just the way that he desires from us. How easy to make an idol of a person or of one's family or of one's church. We dare not. “The dearest idol I have known whate'er that idol be, help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.”
4. The priesthood principle
A contrast is made with these and (15) the priests, who are Levites and descendants of Zadok. These faithfully carried out the duties of my sanctuary says God when the Israelites went astray from me. Therefore, they are to come near to minister before me; they are to stand before me to offer sacrifices of fat and blood, says God. (16) They alone are to enter my sanctuary; they alone are to come near my table to minister before me and perform my service. Zadok (the word means righteous) was appointed by Solomon over scheming Abiathar when he came to power. This was the godly line and was marked not just by descent from Zadok but by faithfulness to God in Babylon and before. No doubt Ezekiel himself was of the Zadokite line.
Under the new covenant all believers are priests to God, indeed they are to be (we may say) Zadokite priests – righteous and holy priests to God. The very Old Testament regulations here apply to us who are New Testament Christians - not literally as the Mormons and others have tried to do but in a more spiritual way. We can list eight things.
As New Testament Zadokite priests, we must seek these things
1. Purity
Verses 17-19. When the priests entered the inner court of the Temple they were to wear linen clothes; they must not wear any woollen garment while ministering at the gates of the inner court or inside the temple. They are to wear linen turbans on their heads and linen undergarments around their waists. They must not wear anything that makes them perspire. On returning to the outer court they are to take off the clothes they have been ministering in and are to leave them in the sacred rooms, and put on other clothes, so as not to consecrate the people with their garments.
So think of our priest – he wears linen garments. These pure linen garments speak of purity. They are priestly garments and remind us of the white garments of the saints in Revelation (4:4; 19:8) and the linen ones that speak of good deeds. They have the power, as it were, to consecrate others.
Are we keeping ourselves pure? Are we making sure that nothing gets in to corrupt us, to sully us? Pure thoughts, pure attitudes. What care we need to take. 1 John 3:3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
2. Balance
Verse 20 They must not shave their heads or let their hair grow long, but they are to keep the hair of their heads trimmed.
The Devil will always seek to drive us to one extreme or another. We must avoid that danger.
3. Temperance
Verses 21 and 22 No priest is to drink wine when he enters the inner court. They must not marry widows or divorced women; they may marry only virgins of Israelite descent or widows of priests.
Such verses speak of temperance, taking care not to abuse good gifts. Is this our attitude?
4. Discernment
Verse 23 They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean. Under the Old Covenant there were all sorts of rules about ceremonial holiness – what to eat, what to wear, how to cut your beard. We are released from those laws but holiness is still necessary. It was the priests job to teach the people these things. We also must teach one another discernment and learn it ourselves. In Hebrews 5:14 the writer talks about those who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. We need to train ourselves in that way.
5. "Biblicity"
The priests were also judges. Verse 24a In any dispute, the priests are to serve as judges and decide it according to my ordinances. God's Word was to decide. That's how it must be for us. We can't go on custom or tradition. We must keep going back to the Word for our ideas of holiness.
6. Observance
Verse 24b They are to keep my laws and my decrees for all my appointed feasts, and they are to keep my Sabbaths holy. Again, we are no longer bound to keep the ancient feasts but we must keep the Lord's Day holy as best we can and be careful to observe all holiness.
7. Separation
Verses 25-27. Priests were not to go near a dead body except if it was a very close relative. Then he would have to be ritually cleansed but could not resume duties until a week after that. He would have to make an offering on his return. In verse 31 we read The priests must not eat anything, bird or animal, found dead or torn by wild animals. This life of separateness was spelled out in such ways then. We are not bound to follow such rules, even though we are priests, because Jesus has died and so fulfilled all such obligations. However, the duty to lead lives separate from the world remains. We are in the world but not of it. We are separated to God. We must not forget that.
8. Devotion
Finally, in verses 28-30 God says I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession. They will eat of the various offerings; and everything in Israel devoted to the LORD will belong to them. The best of all the firstfruits and of all your special gifts will belong to the priests. You are to give them the first portion of your ground meal so that a blessing may rest on your household. They were not to own land then like the other Israelites but God would provide for them. Sometimes, perhaps we become concerned that by taking up the cross and following Christ we are missing out but we are not. God is our portion, our possession, even. We have him and is we have him then all things are ours. He has devoted himself to us so let's devote ourselves to him.
Keep these words in mind as watchwords then - purity, balance, temperance, discernment, "biblicity", observance, separation, devotion. If we are believers we are priests and this is how we must conduct ourselves as servants to God through Christ. Remember the overarching principles too -a closed door, exclusion, idolatry and priesthood. Live holy lives for God's glory and be blessed.

Requirements for Worship

Text Ezekiel 43 Time 25/01/09 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

We've begun to look at the final chapters of Ezekiel – Chapters 40-48. These 9 chapters contain one continuous vision – a vision of the future given in the form of a Temple, a new Jerusalem and a new Promised Land. Last week we looked at Chapters 40-42. They are not easy chapters to read or follow but they describe a magnificent temple – a spiritual temple certainly, not a literal one – a Temple greater than any before or after it. In that part of the vision Ezekiel is led all over the Temple by a man whose appearance was like bronze – probably an angel, possibly the Lord Jesus himself - who carries a tape measure and a special ruler and measures everything they see. Ezekiel is told to pay careful attention and Tell the house of Israel everything you see. The Temple points us to Jesus Christ and the living Temple that is the church of this New Testament era in which we now live. The main lessons last time centred on the exclusivity and holiness in the gospel, the fact of God's detailed plans for his people, the centrality of true worship, the beauty of true holy worship and the importance of sacrifice and forgiveness in true worship.
As we come into Chapter 43 the man continues to guide Ezekiel and brings him to the gate facing east - the main gate of the temple, the one that led most directly to its heart and where Ezekiel had been brought in originally. Ezekiel describes what he sees next in verses 2-9 – the return of the glory of God. The man then stresses the importance of passing on the message to the people. After that Ezekiel goes on to describe the altar in the Temple and its consecration. There are 3 main things here then about true and holy worship, which begins back in the Old Testament but that reaches its climax in this New Testament era. Ezekiel uses Old Testament terms but speaks of the then future now present New Testament era. So we say
1. Realise that true and holy New Testament worship requires the glorious presence of God
1. Consider the glory of God and how to respond to it
In verse 2 Ezekiel says I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice (better the noise he created) was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. Ezekiel has been shown the Temple – An empty temple is like an empty body. There's no life in it. But this is going to change. Ezekiel takes us back to the start of the book where over 20 years before he'd first seen a vision of God like this. See 1:4ff. The glory of God is his powerful and glorious presence. It is beyond description. He has a majesty that is matchless and beyond the power of any man to fully describe. Ezekiel's reaction each time is to fall face down (on his face not on his back) before such amazing greatness and power. There is no other appropriate response.
We must always remember this when we come to think about God and about his worship. God's glory, of course, in one sense, like his presence, is everywhere. It is especially known in heaven. That's where his glory is most obviously seen and known. However, it can also be known very powerfully on earth – especially where God's people gather to worship, as here. What do you need this morning to worship God? This building? Well, it helps to have somewhere to meet but there is nothing in this building that will bring in the glory of God and even if we filled it with wonderful architecture and paintings, etc, it still couldn't do it. What do you need this morning to worship God? These people? Obviously we need people to worship God but again there is nothing in us by nature that can guarantee anything and even if we were the greatest singers in the world and I could preach you the best sermon ever preached, etc, that wouldn't do it either. No, if we are to worship God this morning we desperately need his own holy and glorious presence. We need, as it were, the sound of his presence, the radiance of his glory. Without that it's just a lifeless body. Without that we are just going through the motions. And isn't that true too when we worship God alone or in our families? Do pray for the glorious presence of God. We won't see anything or hear anything but we need to have him near and know he is near.
2. Consider the possibility of the glory of God departing but also being restored
Verse 2 also takes us back to Chapter 10 where we read of the departure of God's glory from the Temple. It was as a result of the wickedness and corruption there that this departure took place. Now at the end of the book Ezekiel sees not just a new and holy Temple but the restoration of God's glory. And that's what we see in the new covenant – the restoration of God's amazing glory in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. How very sad in Chapter 10 to see the glory departing but how wonderful now in Chapter 43 to see the promise of restoration.
We can think, perhaps, of meetings that have been boring or unhelpful, of times when we ourselves have tried to pray or read the Bible and got nowhere. There can be times in the life of a believer or a church when it is as if the word Ichabod is written over it. You remember the name Ichabod? It comes in 1 Samuel. It's the name that Eli's daughter-in-law, who died in childbirth, gave to her son on hearing that her husband was dead and the ark of the covenant had been captured. The name Ichabod means “the glory has departed”. The glory can depart – never forget that. There is no guarantee of God's presence. But it can also return, as it clearly does here. If the glory is lost at all – let's pray that it will return, that it will be restored again. It can be so.
3. Consider where the glory of God is to be found
In verses 5-7a we read how the LORD's glory then entered the temple through the east gate. The Spirit then lifted Ezekiel up and brought him into the inner court, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. Next Ezekiel hears a voice from inside the temple say Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever. God doesn't set up his throne just anywhere. He doesn't come to stand in just any place. He lives among his people, in their midst - in the Holy Temple. So it is today. It is God's people who form his holy temple and it is among them that he manifests himself. Each individual Christian is a temple in that the Holy Spirit lives within them but especially together believers (in Peter's words) like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
4. Consider the condition for enjoying the glory of God
The voice Ezekiel heard goes on (7b-9) to say that Israel would never again defile God's holy name - neither they nor their kings - by their prostitution and the lifeless idols of their kings at their high places. When they placed their threshold next to my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them, they defiled my holy name by their detestable practices. They actually brought idolatry right up to the Temple gates and sometimes into it. God says So I destroyed them in my anger. Then comes a command with a promise Now let them put away from me their prostitution and the lifeless idols of their kings, and I will live among them forever. Why had the glory departed? Because of the people's sins. The people had fallen into idolatry and greed and had turned to many sins and so had been judged. Back in 1899 droves of students were leaving Princeton College in America. They all had their excuses but the real problem was that there had been a case of smallpox and all the students wanted to be away from it. We speak of avoiding something "like the plague". Well, God avoids sin in the same way – not because it can do him harm as such but because it is irreconcilable with his glory. But look now the promise is here that if his people will turn from their sins God will live among them forever. We can know the joy of God's presence everyday if we will simply turn from sin. Holiness will guarantee his glorious presence in our meetings. Sin will certainly drive him away but holiness will lead to glory. We should be doing all we can to seek his glorious presence.
2. Realise that true and holy New Testament worship requires careful conformity to the Word
Next, in verses 9-11, God continues to speak. It is most interesting to see his concern. Some people listen to a message like the one I have just given about God's glorious presence and they think it is all about that and nothing else matters. In fact there is something else just as important. Jesus says in the New Testament that those who truly worship God worship in spirit (with the glorious presence of God) and in truth – according to God's Word. So we say
1. Remember the importance of the Word in showing us our sins
God says (10) Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider the plan. Ezekiel has already been told this but God wants to stress to him the importance of describing the Temple to the people and of letting them consider the plan. The purpose of this is that they may be ashamed of their sins. When we come to the Word the first thing it usually does and should do is to make us ashamed of ourselves and of our sins. This is one reason why we are sometimes reluctant to turn to it. God's purpose was that as the people read of this glorious future Temple they would think of the Temple they had lost and be ashamed of their sins and would want to repent. Are you paying heed to God's Word? Do read the Bible. When we read it we should react in the same way as outlined here. Aren't you ashamed of yourself? Some of the things you have done? Some of the ways you have behaved? God has been so good and we have been so bad.
2. Remember the importance of every part of the Word in leading to holiness
It goes on (11) and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple - its arrangement, its exits and entrances - its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations. When the people hear of the Temple they'll not only be ashamed of their sins, they'll also see that there's hope for them. There's a way to be saved! It's like a drowning man reaching out and finding someone's thrown him a life saver. Again that's what the Word does – it shows us the way out of sin and to holiness. See how God wants Ezekiel to pass on all the details and for the people to receive it all. Every detail of Scripture will help us more and more to understand God's will. Are you paying heed to God's Word? Do read the Bible. Here is the way to be holy. Here is the pattern for forgiveness, the way out of sin and on to the highway to holiness. Only the Word can give us this.
3. Realise that true and holy New Testament worship requires holiness and a consecrated altar
So with the thought of holiness in mind we turn first to verse 12 and then to the remaining verses of the chapter.
1 Remember that true and holy New Testament worship requires holiness
Clearly then to worship God aright we need his glorious presence, we need to conform to his Word and we need holiness in our lives. In verse 12 Ezekiel is told This is the law of the temple: All the surrounding area on top of the mountain will be most holy. Such is the law of the temple. Previously it was only the very heart of the Temple that was most holy but now it is not just every part of it but All the surrounding area on top of the mountain too. Holiness is increasing then. In this New Testament era all believers are priests and every area of life is to be dedicated to the Lord. More and more holiness prevails – that is how it must be in our lives. Pray “More holiness give me, more strivings within.” We must be seeking to be increasingly holy – not just in Sundays, not just in church or at prayer – but in every single part of our lives.
2 Remember that true and holy New Testament worship requires an altar
Having said that the altar at the heart of the Temple is still very important. In verses 13-17 Ezekiel's attention is drawn to it and he is told These are the measurements of the altar in long cubits, that cubit being a cubit and a handbreadth: Its gutter is a cubit deep and a cubit wide, with a rim of one span around the edge. And this is the height of the altar: From the gutter on the ground up to the lower ledge it is 2 cubits high and a cubit wide, and from the smaller ledge up to the larger ledge it is 4 cubits high and a cubit wide. The altar hearth is 4 cubits high, and 4 horns project upward from the hearth. The altar hearth is square, 12 cubits long and 12 cubits wide. The upper ledge also is square, 14 cubits long and 14 cubits wide, with a rim of half a cubit and a gutter of a cubit all around. The steps of the altar face east.
The whole of the Temple area is holy but the altar at its heart continues to be important. This reminds us of the centrality of the cross. It is Christ's sacrifice there that makes holiness possible. This is the great theme of Scripture. This what makes it possible for the glory of God to come near. If we are to be holy we must keep coming back to this. We will do that best by regularly setting aside time to read the Bible and to pray as individuals and as families.
3 Remember that true and holy New Testament worship requires a consecrated altar
In 18-26 we read about the consecration of the altar. The LORD says These will be the regulations for sacrificing burnt offerings and sprinkling blood upon the altar when it is built. First, a young bull is to be given as a sin offering to the priests, who are Levites, of the family of Zadok, who come near to minister before me ... some of its blood is to be put ... on the four horns of the altar and on the four corners of the upper ledge and all around the rim, to purify the altar and make atonement for it. The bull itself is to be burnt in the designated part of the temple area outside the sanctuary. On the next day a male goat without defect is also to be offered to further purify the altar. When that is done another young bull and a ram from the flock, both without defect, are to be offered not as a sin offering but as a burnt offering to the LORD this time. Every day for seven days a male goat is to be offered as a sin offering plus a young bull and a ram from the flock, both without defect. So (26) For seven days they are to make atonement for the altar and cleanse it; thus they will dedicate it. Dedication to God and consecration are not subjects we often talk about today. Perhaps there has been a reaction against the abuses of such talk. However, let us not be mistaken we need all of us to be consecrated to God, dedicated to him. We need to keep coming back to the cross – to the fact of Christ's death for sinners, in their place. We must never forget this. It is the heart of true religion and it is the heart of true worship.
4 Remember that true and holy New Testament worship requires a regularly used altar
Verse 27 At the end of these days, from the eighth day on, the priests are to present your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar. Then I will accept you, declares the Sovereign LORD. If we want to be acceptable to God then we must be regularly coming to him through Jesus Christ. That is how to worship. That is how to live.

Vision of the Final Temple

Text Ezekiel 40-42 Time 18/01/09 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

Some while ago (at the end of 2006) we began a series of studies in the Book of Ezekiel. It's not an easy book but it was good to look at Ezekiel's visions and his other prophecies together. Most recently I preached (near the end of 2008) on Chapters 38, 39. I've now preached some 30 sermons and we have just 9 chapters left, 40-48. These chapters contain one continuous vision and form the glorious climax to the book. However, there are two problems with them
1. Reading and understanding them. It is not the easiest sort of literature to read. There are a lot of figures and other details. It is far from being exciting stuff and some of it is quite tedious.
2. Understanding their meaning. This is rightly considered to be one of the most difficult parts of Scripture. Matthew Henry says that the Jews wouldn't allow anyone to read it until they were 30 years old. They also would say, he says, that though you can't understand everything in it, when Elijah comes he will explain it!
Many commentators have had to confess themselves at a loss as to what to make of these chapters and how to apply them but just because it is hard to read and understand I don't think we should simply ignore it. This is God's Word and we ought to humbly study it, seeking to understand it as best we can and get as much out from it as we can. As we do so perhaps we ought to do as Matthew Henry suggests and thank God that salvation does not depend on it. How to be saved is a very simple thing. Not like these chapters at all!
Ezekiel 40-48 can be divided into six sections.
In Chapters 40-42 we have the vision of the glorious temple itself.
In Chapter 43 we read of how God's glory comes to the Temple and he takes possession of it.
In Chapter 44 there are orders concerning the priests who are to minister in the Temple.
In Chapter 45 we have the division of the land and
In Chapter 46 further instructions for Ezekiel and the people.
Finally (Chapters 47 and 48) we have the vision of the holy waters and the borders of the holy land, the portions assigned to the tribes and the dimensions and gates of the holy city.
Today we plan to cover Chapters 40-42. These chapters are really preparatory. They set the scene for the glory of Chapter 43. Don't forget that we are heading for 43:2 I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory.
I have four things to say to you.
1. Some helpful things to remember about Ezekiel 40-48
1. Ezekiel's Temple is not literal
It's not Solomon's Temple, wonderful as it was, nor the Temple built when they returned from the exile, nor Herod's Temple that was being built in the time of Jesus. No this is clearly an ideal temple, a spiritual one – the very dimensions show that (the new temple is bigger than all the old Jerusalem and the new Jerusalem bigger than all of Canaan). Further, this Temple is ready built and full of glory. There is a general drift in Scripture from a more outward and physical to a more inward and spiritual expression of religion and that fits with this view. Sometimes people say 'You don't take the Bible literally do you?' The truth is we read it, in many ways, like any other book. Where it seems to be literal we read it literally and where it is spiritual we seek to take it spiritually.
2. Ezekiel's vision anticipates Revelation 21, 22
We can't go into this now but it is helpful to note how the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation (21, 22) undoubtedly have these chapters in mind. In Revelation 20 we are warned of Antichrist then comes the glorious end. In Ezekiel it is the same - first the warning chapters 38, 39 then these glorious and uplifting ones, 40-48.
3. There are no boring subjects
Some of you know I like to blog on the Internet. One blog is devoted to my favourite band Focus. I go through the different songs, song by song, giving background, different instruments used, style, etc. It's pretty tedious reading for most people but I like it. The vision as given may seem dull and irrelevant to us but remember that Ezekiel was a priest and that in ancient Israel, until the exile, religious life revolved around the Temple.
4. Ezekiel's basic message
One writer says that although these chapters are not light reading, they “carry the message of hope to its climax”. The purpose of the vision appears to be twofold
1 To reassure the exiles they had a future. They would not only return to the land, as often promised in the book, but would worship God there in his house. They wouldn't have a King as before but they'd have a prince or ruler to encourage the worship of God and be himself an example of diligent attendance on it. Prince, priests and people would be comfortably settled in their own land.
2 To encourage them to look beyond this to a greater, more glorious future - a future now already begun. They are encouraged to expect the coming of Messiah and the setting up of a new temple, a spiritual temple – today's gospel church, the glory of which far outshines that of Solomon's Temple and which will go on until Christ's return. Old Testament types (temple, altar, priests, sacrifices) point to the sort of spiritual worship characteristic of the gospel day in which we now are. E J Young has the heading “The vision of the church of God upon earth symbolised by the description of the Temple”.
2. Two observations on the opening verses of the section
1. God's timing
Ezekiel 40 begins with an announcement of the date of the vision - the 25th year of our exile says Ezekiel at the beginning of the year, on the 10th of the month, in the 14th year after the fall of the city - on that very day the hand of the LORD was upon me and he took me there to Jerusalem. Some had been taken into exile earlier so this was near the midpoint of the 70 year exile God's people endured. Just at the lowest point a great word of encouragement comes, as so often, from God.
2. God's messengers
Ezekiel explains how God took him back to Israel again and set him on a very high mountain, (another pointer to this not being a literal Temple – these were on Zion, a hill) on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city. In Revelation 21 we read that there is no Temple in New Jerusalem for God is there and here the whole city is a Temple. Here Ezekiel sees a man whose appearance was like bronze stood in the gateway holding a tape measure and a ruler. We learn (40:5) that the ruler was marked with a special unit. Each of its six cubits were long cubits, each of which was a cubit and a handbreadth. The man could be an angel but it is probably a Theophany of Christ himself. He's the one doing the measuring – the one who shows the dimensions of this glorious vision for us. He tells Ezekiel to look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you. That's why Ezekiel was there - to take in the vision then pass it on. That's what prophets did and what, in a lesser way, preachers are to do. Having looked and listened and paid attention I now seek to tell you everything.
3. A survey of 40:5-42:20
The Temple consisted of a covered area surrounded by two U-shaped courtyards, outer and inner.
The outer court is described first. It lay inside (40:5) a square wall (10' X 10') completely surrounding the temple area. It had three gates, which are all measured - first the east gate (40:6-16) then the north (40:20-23) and the south (40:24-27). Each identical gate has seven steps up to it, then a threshold and inside the wall six small alcoves for the guards, three a side, with a portico, porch or covered entrance beyond that. There are (40:16) narrow parapet openings like the openings in castle towers everywhere and the faces of the projecting walls are decorated with palm trees. The outer court (40:17-19) or lower pavement formed a U-shape round the inner court (which we come to in 40:28). Around 4½ acres in size, this covered pavement ran along the outer wall and included 30 rooms for worshippers, 10 on each side, five either side of each outer gate.
The inner court is described next and mention is made of the altar which was in front of the Temple. The inner court is about ¾ of an acre, again U-shaped and contained within the outer court. Once again there are three gates to this court. Ezekiel is led through the south one which is also measured. Like the previous gates these identical gates into the inner court also have alcoves, projecting walls and a portico but are a mirror version of the outer ones. They are also higher, 8 steps led up to them. In the case of each of the inner gateways (40:38) A room with a doorway was by the portico ... where the burnt offerings were washed. In each of these gateways were 8 tables on which the burnt offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings were slaughtered ... There were also 4 identical tables of dressed stone for the burnt offerings. On them Ezekiel sees utensils for slaughtering the burnt offerings and the other sacrifices. Next to these northern and southern inner gateways are 2 rooms. Ezekiel is told (40:45, 46) that one is for the priests involved in the regular Temple work, the other for the priests who have charge of the altar that is (40:47) the sons of Zadok, ... the only Levites allowed to draw near to the LORD to minister before him.
Next, the Temple itself. Its portico or vestibule is spoken of in 40:48, 49. Again, it is a large and grand affair with projecting walls, etc. It was reached by a flight of stairs, and there were pillars on each side of the jambs (gateposts) - higher again then. In Chapter 41 Ezekiel is brought into the Temple itself. It is in two parts, with an inner room, half the size of the first - the Most Holy Place. Next the walls are measured and the side rooms. There are 30 of these on three levels, each slightly wider than the one below. Staircases connect the levels and there are entrances north and south. In 41:8 Ezekiel says I saw that the temple had a raised base all round it, forming the foundation of the side rooms. Once again measurements are given. There is a 20 cubit wide strip between these side rooms and the priests' rooms. In 41:12 we read of another thick walled building facing the temple courtyard on the west side ... 70 cubits wide and 90 cubits long, alongside the sanctuary. All of these are covered in wood. 41:17-20 describes how carved cherubim and palm trees featured everywhere. Each cherub had 2 faces: the face of a man towards the palm tree on one side and the face of a lion towards the palm tree on the other. They were carved all round the whole temple. At the end of Chapter 41 we are told about the two rectangular wooden doors and a wooden altar. The man (41:22) tells Ezekiel This is the table that is before the LORD. Further detail refers to the intricate carving on the doors and other parts of the Temple.
Chapter 42 is about the rooms for the priests back in the outer court and opposite the temple courtyard and ... the outer wall on the north side. Again on three levels, the rooms included galleries or corridors so were narrower on succeeding levels. Also no pillars were used. The lower rooms could also be entered from the east. Matching rooms were found on the south side. Ezekiel is told (43:12, 13) The north and south rooms facing the temple courtyard are the priests' rooms, where the priests who approach the LORD will eat the most holy offerings. There they will put the most holy offerings - the grain offerings, the sin offerings and the guilt offerings - for the place is holy. There is also detail here about how the priests are not to leave the temple wearing their ephods.
The final verses of Chapter 42 give the overall measurements for the Temple itself showing its perfect symmetry. Mention is made of the very outer wall, to separate the holy from the common.
4. Lessons to learn from these verses
If we take the view then that these chapters are pointing us forward to the New Testament era in which we live then what are the lessons that are to be learned here? There are at least five.
1. Recognise the importance of exclusivity and holiness
As you read about this Temple, it sounds more like a fortress than a Temple. It seems a rather forbidding place with places for guards and you have to go through several rooms to get to the heart of it. The thick walls seem to shout – keep out! And that is part of our heritage. In the gospel there is a sharp division that we need to maintain between those who are inside and those who are outside. We are not to be unloving to anyone but we must make clear gospel distinctions. You are either for Jesus or against him and if you are for him you must live a life of strict holiness. Keep separate the holy from the common.
2. Appreciate the detailed perfection of God's plans for his people
If you look carefully at these measurements, which are so exact, you will see the perfect dimensions employed. It is a little like the perfect cube mentioned in Revelation especially in that summing up at the end of Chapter 42 (verses 16-19) He measured the east side with the measuring rod; it was 50 hundred cubits. He measured the north side; it was 50 hundred cubits by the measuring rod. He measured the south side; it was 50 hundred cubits by the measuring rod. Then he turned to the west side and measured; it was 50 hundred cubits by the measuring rod. All this speaks of God's meticulous plans for his people, plans that cannot fail, plans that are perfect in every way. They don't always appear to be so to us but they certainly are. Be assured that God's perfect plan is in operation.
3. See the centrality of worship
This whole edifice is for the worship of God, for his praise and honour. New Testament worship is in spirit and in truth and is to be so characterised. If we want an idea of its grandeur and greatness, its glory then we only have to read chapters like this. Cathedrals are wonderful places but they do not begin to match what we read of here. Do you worship God? Do you have a sense of his greatness and majesty? We ought to.
4. Consider the beauty of holy worship
When we read of the cherubim of heaven and the palm trees of earth all over this Temple and when we read of its great and symmetrical dimensions, it is clear that this is a beautiful Temple. This should lead us not to try and make a Temple just as beautiful (as some assume) but to see the beauty in holiness and true worship. Holiness and simple worship can be pictured as such horrible things but in truth they are not. There is a beauty about simple holy living and simple New Testament worship that cannot be matched. Have you seen this? Is such beauty known in your life?
5. Observe the focus on sacrifice and forgiveness
The ancient Tabernacle and Temple resembled something of an abattoir when they were fully functioning. There was blood everywhere with sacrifices going on all the time. In many ways it is quite an unpleasant thing. Ezekiel's vision does not shy away from that. Although nothing is actually happening at this point the place is clearly designed for sacrifice. He even sees the tables where the sacrifices are to be slaughtered and (40:42, 43) the utensils for slaughtering the burnt offerings and the other sacrifices. And double-pronged hooks, each a handbreadth long, ... attached to the wall all around. In heaven sacrifice will not be necessary but here on earth there is the need to look to Christ and his sacrifice (symbolised by the Old Testament sacrifices) for forgiveness and to live sacrificial lives in God's service. May the Lord help us to live so.

Latter Day Victory Promised

Text Ezekiel 39 Time 12/10/08 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

We began last week to look at Ezekiel 38 and 39. We just looked at Chapter 38 on that occasion. Chapter 39 develops and expands on what we find in Chapter 38. Both chapters are about Gog of Magog. I suggested to you last week that we can identify this character with the Antichrist or Man of Sin spoken of in the New Testament. I drew your attention to Revelation 20:7-10 which is really like a short summary of Ezekiel 38 and 39. There we read
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - Gog and Magog - to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Last week we described the Antichrist on the basis of this chapter as powerful, well equipped and warlike and with plenty of resources and many allies too. We also pointed out that God is implacably opposed to him. The prediction here is that he will fight against God's people. He will fight, intent on plunder, against the innocent and blessed. He will fight powerfully and extensively against God's people. Such fearful warnings remind us that it is no easy thing to be a Christian. This Satan inspired opposition is vicious and strong and multi-faceted. It is clear from the New Testament that there are many Antichrists just as Gog has many allies and so we must be strong and look to the Lord at all times. However, we should remember that God knows all about his enemies and one day he will in zeal and in wrath change everything. God will bring judgement on his enemies. It is on this final point that Chapter 39 almost exclusively dwells. However, at the end of the chapter there is also more hopeful material that we also ought to take note of.
1. Hear this future promise concerning God's enemies, God himself and God's people
In verses 1-10 we have a series of reiterated promises regarding Gog, God himself and God's people. These again refer to what was for Ezekiel the distant future though they no doubt have partial fulfilments on the way. We need to get hold of these sure and certain promises. “You cannot starve a man who is feeding on the promises of God.”
1. Realise that Gog will be defeated
Ezekiel has been told before to prophesy against Gog and declare what the Sovereign LORD says. Here in Chapter 39 God again says I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. As before he says (2) I will turn you around and drag you along. First I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. (3) Then he will overthrow him. Several images are used.
God will disarm him I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. The weapons he used against God's people will be taken.
God will bring him down 4 On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. The whole army drops to the ground – like sacks of potatoes.
God will feed him to the birds I will give you as food to all kinds of carrion birds and to the wild animals. You will fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD.
God (6) will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coastlands, (those who may not have fought with Gog and his armies but who gave moral support). A familiar sign of judgement.
We must realise as Christians that God's enemies are powerful but we must recognise above everything else that they will be defeated. They cannot last. Judgement day is fast approaching – for them and for all of us.
2. Realise that God will be glorified
This point is also made at the end of Chapter 38. Here it is underlined. Verse 6 reads and they will know that I am the LORD. God then says (7, 8) I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the LORD am the Holy One in Israel. It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign LORD. This is the day I have spoken of. There is a day. It is in the future but it is still definite – a day when God will be glorified among his people. The New Testament speaks of it as the day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
Are you aware of that day? Are you ready for that day? Don't let it take you by surprise. If it was a date we knew, we'd all have it marked in our calendars. We can't do that but we can think about it and get ready.
3. Realise that God's people will be victorious
That will be part of the character of that day. In verses 9 and 10 we have a strange but powerful picture Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up - the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years (a symbolic number of completeness) they will use them for fuel. They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel. And they will plunder those who plundered them and loot those who looted them, declares the Sovereign LORD.
Today so often Christians are persecuted. They are picked on and taken advantage of. One day the boot will be on the other foot. One day our day will come and we must be patient until that day.
2. Hear these future promises of complete victory
In verses 11-21 we get more detail about what is going to happen. The words are quite specific and quite gruesome but it is clear that these verses are symbolic. These are pictures of the complete victory that God's people will one day know. So we say
1. Realise that God's people will one day bury the opposition
11 On that day God says I will give Gog a burial place in Israel, in the valley of those who travel east toward the Sea. (Probably the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley). It will block the way of travellers, because Gog and all his hordes will be buried there. It's name will be the Valley of Hamon Gog (multitude of Gog). 12, 13 For seven months (again a symbolic number of completeness) ... Israel will be burying them in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land will bury them .... In verses 14 and 15 we have the extra detail that men would be employed to complete the clearing up. At the end of the seven months they will begin their search. As they go through the land and one of them sees a human bone, he will set up a marker beside it until the gravediggers have buried it in the Valley of Hamon Gog. There is also a note in verse 16 Also a town called Hamonah will be there. The word again means multitude.
This is a strange but powerful picture of Judgement day and the hell that will follow for God's enemies. God's people will judge the world and they will condemn God's enemies to hell.
Someone might speak about "burying the opposition". That is what will happen to God's enemies.
2. Realise that the opposition will be eaten up
In verses 17-20 another powerful picture is used. Ezekiel is told next to Call out to every kind of bird and all the wild animals to gather for a great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel. There they will eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth as if they were sacrificial sheep or goats or bulls - fattened animals from the grassy hills of Bashan. There will be so many of these that it will be like a glut of fat and enough blood to make them drunk. 20 At my table says God you will eat your fill of horses and riders, mighty men and soldiers of every kind.
It is a very gory picture, even more gory than the last. The point is the same. God's people will judge the world and they will condemn God's enemies to hell. It stands as a warning to the ungodly and an encouragement to those who trust in Jesus Christ. Someone may speak of "feasting on the carcasses of his enemies". That is what will happen to God's enemies.
3. Hear these now present promises of the new covenant
In verse 13 God speaks of the day I am glorified ... a memorable day for God's people. In verse 21 he says I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay upon them. This is developed in the closing verses of the chapter (22-29). In these verses Ezekiel appears still to be speaking about the future but at this point he begins to speak of a nearer time, a time before the judgement. There are four promises here then.
1. The promise of knowing God and of God's vindication
In verse 22 he says From that day forward the house of Israel will know that I am the LORD their God. That day is clearly that of Gog's defeat but, as we shall see, this "knowing God" will begin before then.
In verses 23 and 24 it goes on And the nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin, because they were unfaithful to me. So I hid my face from them and handed them over to their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their offences, and I hid my face from them. At the time in which Ezekiel wrote God's people were in exile and the nations mocked but a day is coming says Ezekiel when the nations will know why Israel were sent into exile. God has plans for Israel then – and for the nations.
We live in such days – days when God can be known and when he is at work vindicating himself before the nations of the world.
2. The promise of safety and of peace
In verses 25 and 26 we have the promise of the return from exile. Ezekiel is now really rounding off all he has said at least from Chapter 35 on. Imagine hearing this promise there in Babylon. God says I will now bring Jacob back from captivity and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name. They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. Once again they are going to live in safety and peace in the land.
This safety and peace pictures the safety and peace that belongs to life in Christ. To be a Christian is to come back from exile in Babylon and to know peace and joy in the Lord.
3. The promise of knowing God and of his salvation
If we jump to verse 28 we see these words Then they will know that I am the LORD their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. Of course, on the Day of Judgement God's people will know him but even before that, Ezekiel promises, they will know him because he will act on their behalf.
Today you can know God and you can know his saving power at work in your life. Have you known it?
4. The promise of God's holy presence and of his Spirit
Perhaps the most interesting verses in the chapter are verses 27 and 29. 27 When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will show myself holy through them in the sight of many nations. After the return from the exile God is going to show himself to be holy among them. When God's people returned from exile they were different. They no longer chased after idols. There was a holiness about them. Over the next 400 years this slowly deteriorated. The Pharisees are a prime example of a group that was once very holy but declined. But even as the pages of the New Testament open there is a godly remnant (Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, Simeon, Anna) and among them is born Messiah – the holy Saviour and God shows himself holy through them in the sight of many nations, the nations of the world.
Finally (29) God says I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel. Again, this is just what has happened. After the death and resurrection of Christ and his ascension into heaven, he poured the Holy Spirit out on the Day of Pentecost, as prophesied here. The Holy Spirit is now at work among the nations bringing people to know God. Pray for the Holy Spirit. If you have him. Pray to know him at work more in you. If you don't, you need him to be saved. He will enable you to trust in Christ.

Rise and Fall of Gog and Magog

Text Ezekiel 38 Time 05/10/08 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I heard my father-in-law tell a story the other week about a Christian farmer who kept a few pigs on his small farm. That was all he had; he was very poor. One Sunday morning before he came to church he discovered all his pigs had picked up some disease and were dead. He was destitute; they were all his livelihood. He went off to church and that Sunday morning the minister preached an excellent sermon and the people really appreciated it. They said to each other, “Wasn’t that helpful?” Someone said to him, “Wasn’t that good?” Do you know what he said? “I wish he’d said a few words about my pigs.” As my father-in-law says “You know what he meant”.
Now I don't know in what frame of mind you've come here this morning but you may think that what I have to say is quite irrelevant to you - but I assure you that it is not. What we are going to do today is to take a very broad and sweeping look at things. It may not seem to have much to say to your immediate situation but if you listen carefully you will see that it has.
You may remember that some time ago we started a series of studies in the Book of Ezekiel. We haven't looked at it for a while but you may remember that we got as far as Chapter 37. Today I want us to begin again looking at the book and to begin with Chapter 38. In Chapter 37 Ezekiel give the people hope. There will be a return from the exile. However, there are other things to learn.
As you may know, there is quite an industry in America producing what are sometimes called "Christian apocalyptic novels", all about Christ's Second Coming, the supposed rapture and the end of the world. There has been a great deal of interest in these chapters from that quarter in recent years. In 1995 Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins appeared. The first in a series of novels, it apparently makes use of these chapters (Ezekiel 38, 39) as does Joel C Rosenberg's 2005 novel The Ezekiel Option. Both books have become bestsellers and won awards. Rosenberg's work is set in 2014 and tells the story of how Russia becomes a dictatorship and subsequently forms an anti-American alliance with Iran. This leads to a nuclear war but there is a divine intervention before the world is destroyed.
Because the army spoken of here invades from the far north and in some cases because one of the words used sounds a little like the word Russia novelists and others have assumed that Russia must be intended. One writer in the nineties hoped that with the fall of communism this would become less common but there is no sign that it has done so.
These are chapters that are certainly not easy to understand but we are unlikely to find answers to our questions in American pulp fiction whether designed for the Christian market or any other. The chapters are a little like the Book of Revelation, where the highly figurative language used tempts some people to speculate. In fact there is also a reference to Gog and Magog in Revelation – in Chapter 20, one of the most difficult chapters in the book. In Revelation 20:7-10 we read
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - Gog and Magog - to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
An obvious problem here is that we do not know who Ezekiel is talking about and where they are from or when his prophecy was fulfilled or is to be fulfilled. We do not know who Gog is or where the land of Magog is or was. Probably the people who first heard the prophecy didn't either. Could Ezekiel have not been clearer? Perhaps the answer to that question is that Ezekiel is deliberately vague because this prophecy is to be for general use. It is to be used by God's people down the ages even until today. If we approach the passage in that way we will probably gain more from it than by simply speculating as to exactly who is spoken of and when they will invade.
Let us focus just on Ezekiel 38 today then and let's ask some questions and try to answer them.
1. Who and what is spoken of here and what is God's attitude to him?
1. Who is spoken of here?
Chapter 38 begins The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.
The names Gog, Meshech and Tubal all appear in Genesis 10, the chapter known as the table of the nations. There Moses gives us the names of some of the nations that arose from Noah's sons (Shem, Ham and Japheth) after the flood. The sons of Japheth are listed as Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras. Some four of these seven names are mentioned in Ezekiel 38. In Ezekiel 38:5 we read that Persia, Cush and Put will be with Gog's army, as will Gomer, already mentioned and Beth Togarmah or the House of Togarmah. Genesis 10 tells us that Togarmah is one of Gomer's sons. Cush and Put are mentioned in Genesis 10 as descending from Ham. Also mentioned joining in, in Ezekiel 38:13, are Sheba and Dedan (descended from Ham according to Genesis 10) and Tarshish (descended from Japheth).
Ezekiel is speaking here then in quite general terms of a non-semitic, Japhethite power with Hamitic support from various quarters. These people are against Israel, against God's people. Revelation Chapter 20 identifies them with Satan and refers to them as the nations in the four corners of the earth.
We are no doubt best to see Gog and Magog then in terms of the Antichrist or man of lawlessness that the New Testament speaks of. John speaks of there being many of these Antichrists and so this is not a message simply for the very end of time but for this whole period of last days from Ezekiel's time and onwards. This will be come clear as we proceed.
2. What is he like?
This Antichrist Gog and Magog is pictured for us as powerful, well equipped and warlike. Ezekiel is commanded to set his face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. He is to prophesy against Gog and show him what will happen. Skipping over verses 3 and 4a for a moment notice in verse 4b the reference to Gog's whole army - your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords. They have plenty of resources and many allies too (38:5) Persia, Cush and Put ... all with shields and helmets, also Gomer with all its troops and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its troops - the many nations with you.
This enemy then cannot be just one person or one nation such as Russia. Several powers are working together here. The emphasis is on their great power, their large resources, their organisation.
It is important that we understand this. The opposition to Christ and his people is not some tin pot army that we don't really need to think about or care about it. No, some of the finest brains, the most sophisticated organisation and the widest ranging effort is poured into such a force. The forces of "Antichristendom" are large and they are strong. They have a lot of money, a lot of support, many resources and a great deal of ingenuity. In education, in politics, in the arts and entertainment, in religion and in many other spheres they have a lot of influence and power.
3. What is God's attitude to him?
Before we get too daunted and depressed by all this, let's remember what is said in the verses we have jumped over. Ezekiel is told to prophesy against him and say: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out .... Suddenly with this interjection the whole thing looks different. Yes, he is strong and there are many with him but don't miss this – God is against him and God is determined to bring him to book. As with a large and ferocious animal, a dangerous animal, God will put hooks in his jaws and bring him out him and his whole army and all his many allies. Not one of them will survive. If God against you then you cannot survive.
Before we say any more the let's be clear about this. Those who oppose God – however powerful they may be, how ever numerous, how ever skilled in oh so many ways – they cannot win. They are doomed. God will deal with them. What a warning against opposing God. And what a comfort and encouragement for the believer. Yes, there will be stiff opposition – it shouldn't surprise us. God has it in hand. He will deal with all opposition in the end. He'll bring all who oppose truth to judgement.
2. What is this large, powerful, warlike enemy going to do?
Having begun with that reassurance we must now go on to see how Ezekiel describes what Gog of Magog and his allies are going to do to God's people.
1. He will fight in the future against God's people
In verses 7-9 God addresses Gog and he says Get ready; be prepared, you and all the hordes gathered about you, and take command of them. This is ironic. God is telling Gog to do his worst. After many days you will be called to arms. In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety. You and all your troops and the many nations with you will go up, advancing like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land.
After many days
they will be called to arms. In future years they will invade. The time is vague but this is something very much in the future – beyond Ezekiel's day and further no doubt. I would suggest to you that we are thinking of these last days beginning after Ezekiel's time and the return from exile and stretching down to our own time. In that period it says Gog and all his troops and the many nations with him will go up, advancing like a storm; they will be like a cloud covering the land so many will they be. The object of their attack is described as a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. Many want to be quite literal here and suppose the establishment of the modern state of Israel is in mind here and one can see why. It would suggest, rather though, a time beyond 70 AD when those brought out from the nations, and now all of them living in safety as the people of God.
It is people like us who are in mind here. We should expect opposition. Our enemies will be like a storm; they will be like a cloud covering the land. Smoke will get in our eyes. Expect it. Don't be surprised by it.
2. He will fight intent on plunder against the innocent and blessed
There is more in verses 10 and 11 as Gog or Antichrist is again addressed. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On that day thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil scheme. You will say, I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people - all of them living without walls and without gates and bars. The innocence and vulnerability of God's people is emphasised in the description of a land of unwalled villages ... a peaceful and unsuspecting people - all of them living without walls and without gates and bars. They are defenceless. That is our position as Christians.
Yes, we must not be passive and just let the unbelievers do as they wish but let's be realistic about our position. We are very vulnerable, open to attack. We are determined to be kind to people, to help them, to point them to Jesus. In doing that we are easy to take advantage of. People who come asking for money. While we are to be as wise as snakes we are also to be as gentle as doves and so sometimes we will be taken advantage of.
In verses 12 and 13 it goes on with God saying what evil thoughts will pass through Gog's mind I will plunder and loot and turn my hand against the resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations, rich in livestock and goods, living at the centre of the land. Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish and all her villages remoter allies then will say to you, Have you come to plunder? Have you gathered your hordes to loot, to carry off silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods and to seize much plunder?
This is a reminder firstly of how greatly God blesses his people. We may not always be rich in livestock and goods as it is pictured here. There may not always be much silver and gold, but there are great blessings material, intellectual and spiritual for believers. That fact makes antichristians envious and they are eager to take what we have as plunder – our best ideas, our best assets, our best people if they can.
Let's be thankful for all the good things we have but let's not be na├»ve about this. They will plunder and loot whatever they can, wherever they can. When there is some sort of rapprochement between Christians and unbelievers people may ask of the unbelievers Have you come to plunder? Have you gathered your hordes to loot, to carry off silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods and to seize much plunder? The answer is always yes – whether it is the crude looting and plundering of pagans attacking a Christian town or village or the more subtle rampaging and ransacking that goes on at an intellectual level this is how it is. The anti christian is always seeking to see what he can get his hands on. They want to take whatever we have. Be aware of that.
3. He will fight powerfully and extensively against God's people
Then in verses 14-16a we read a summing up Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it? You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. Despite living in apparent safety the people of God will be invaded by a large and powerful enemy.
Again I say to you, this is how it is prophesied and how it has been an will be for God's people. All sorts of opposition, strong and extensive, will they know – physical persecution, psychological and intellectual attacks, all sorts of troubles from the Antichrist. And so when we read of Christians being attacked in Orissa and the Philippines and Africa and so on, we should not be surprised. A Richard Dawkins and a hundred other atheists and all their furious opposition, the evil deceits of the Pope in Rome and charlatans on TV who claim to be fiends of Christ but are his mortal enemies – all this is to be expected.
3. What is God's ultimate intention in all this?
Finally, here is the thing we are to get hold of. Look what it says in verses 16b-23. God promises that he will powerfully intervene on behalf of his people and get glory to himself. In verse 16b God says In days to come, O Gog, I will bring you against my land, but look why - so that the nations may know me when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. God's plan is not to leave it with his people in trouble – no he looks beyond that in his purposes. Take note of these facts
1. God knows all about his enemies
17 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Are you not the one I spoke of in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel? At that time they prophesied for years that I would bring you against them. This is a key verse for understanding the chapter. There is no mention of Gog before Ezekiel but because he stands for Antichrist Ezekiel can say that previous prophets spoke of him. It is all here – not the blow by blow detail but enough outline for us.
2. God will in zeal and in wrath change everything
18-20 This is what will happen in that day: "that day" is an important phrase in Scripture. It refers to the day of God's wrath, the day of judgement. When Gog attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign LORD. In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble and every wall will fall to the ground. This is a description of the upheaval of everything solid. We read of these sorts of things in Revelation. This is the end of the world.
3. God will bring judgement on his enemies
21, 22 I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign LORD. Every man's sword will be against his brother. I will execute judgement upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulphur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him. On that day, if not before, there will be judgement against Antichrist and all his followers.
4. God will get glory for himself and all we know he is the LORD
And then comes the glory of God, verse 23 And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD. That is one of the recurring phrases in this book and one of its themes. It should be burned into our minds. It is there as a warning to the unbeliever and as a great encouragement to the believer.