Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ezekiel 8-9 - The Mark of the LORD

8:1 – The date of this revelation is September 18, 592 BC (Ezekiel’s first vision was on July 31, 593 BC). How should we understand this in light of his laying his sides for 430 days? He was sitting at home with the elders of Judah around him (to inquire of the LORD through him? cf. Eze.14:1-3; 20:1). Note that the hand of the LORD did not simply “come” upon him, but “fell” upon him. What is the significance of this?

8:2 – “A figure like a man”? (Eze.1:26-28) How should we understand his appearance?

8:3-5 – “Taken by the hair” and “lifted by the Spirit”? (cf. Bel and the Dragon 36) The term translated “idol” here (Heb. semel) is only referenced two other times (Deut.4:16; 2 Chron.33:7, 15; for explanation see Block NICOT 281) and here it is labeled “that provokes to jealousy” (cf. Deut.4:15-24). This idol is visible from one of the doorways to the Temple (as if to guard?). He sees the glory of the God of Israel (the Living God) which is contrasted with the idol that does nothing.

8:6 – “Do you see”? (8:12, 15, 17; note the wheel within a wheel covered in “eyes” in 1:18; Duguid NIVAC 132fn10). If the prophet is shown these things then surely the LORD has seen far more than He has shown. Why is this asked repeatedly? It serves a rhetorical effect for the prophet (and the readers) to take notice and not turn a blind eye to the surrounding sins. How could the LORD be driven from His sanctuary?

8:7-9 – Why is there a hole in the wall of the inner court of the temple that leads to a secret chamber for Ezekiel to dig through? It may demonstrate that though the secret remains (i.e., Ezekiel goes in through the hole and not the door), yet the LORD sees all.

8:10-12 – What kinds of things are being worshipped and how? Who is represented by the seventy worshippers? (see 8:1; contrast with Ex.24:1, 9; Num.11:24-25) He focuses on Jaazaniah son of Shaphan. Who is this fellow? Shaphan, his father, was a scribe in the days of King Josiah’s reforms (2 Ki.22:3-14; 2 Chron.34:8-20) and his brothers were Ahikam who assisted Jeremiah (Jer.26:24), Elasah who delivered Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles (Jer.29:3), and Gemariah who tried to stop Jeremiah’s scroll from being burned by King Jehoiakin (Jer.36:10, 25). He was apparently not deported with Ezekiel and became defiled in idolatry (despite or even ironically in relation to his name’s meaning “the LORD hears”). Note that each elder representative worshipped a separate image of a creature. The seventy seems to refer to the totality. “The LORD does not see us”? What might this mean? Possibly (1) that the LORD has abandoned them or (2) that the LORD is ignorant of their idolatry (cf. Ps.10:1-11; 94:1-7). Does He in fact see? (Gen.16:13-14; Deut.4:28; Ps.115:4-8) Has He utterly “forsaken the land”?

8:13 – “More detestable” things will be shown (and 8:15)? What could be more detestable?

8:14 – Ezekiel was shown women “mourning for Tammuz” (lit. “weeping the Tammuz”)? Tammuz was the name given to an ancient Sumerian king who was divinized after dying and returning (not necessarily resurrected). The Mesopotamians annually worshipped Tammuz through a (particularly) women’s mourning ritual. Why is this being practiced in the Temple and what is its significance?

8:16-18 – Idolatry in the inner court. Why are the worshippers backs to the Temple and their faces to the east? It demonstrates a rejection of the LORD and worship of the sun (cf. 2 Ki.21:5; 23:11-12; condemned in Deut.4:19; 17:2-5). “The essence of idolatry is not so much denying the reality of God but the relevance of God” (Duguid NIVAC 140). Worse yet they are oppressive, violent and cruel to one another. What does “the branch to their nose” (or “my nose”) mean? Somehow it is insulting, though how is unclear.

9:1-2 – The statements about no pity (8:18) are immediately followed by the call for the executioners of the city of Jerusalem. Six executioners (much like the Levite temple guards in Eze.44:11) and one scribe arrive to carry out the judgment. Who is the scribe or who does the scribe represent? Suggestions have included Gabriel and the Christ.

9:3 – “The glory of the God of Israel went up”? “Above the cherubim” refers to the holy of holies and the ark of the covenant (Ex.25:18-22). Who commissions the scribe?

9:4-7 – “A mark on the forheads”? What was the mark and who was marked? (cf. Rev.7:3; 13:16) The ‘taw’ is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and at that time looked like an X (represented in English still in the ‘T’). This was perhaps like a signature (see Block NICOT 307). Who was to be judged by execution? Is there any gender or age discrimination? Why not? The list in 9:6 is of “the defenseless, the frail, and the innocent” (Block NICOT 308). The holy was profaned by idolatry and so was no longer holy and therefore the wicked could be slaughtered there. Iain Duguid (NIVAC 134-135) has noted the parallels to Passover in Exodus 12, but here it is Israel that is judged.

9:8-11 – “Left by myself”? Will the LORD destroy everyone? Note the reasons for the LORD’s judgment. Does he spare the righteous? (cf. Gen.18:23) Robert Chandlish (cited in Duguid NIVAC 137) astutely wrote, “The Lord waits long to be gracious, as if he knew not how to smite. He smites at last as if he knew not how to pity.”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Preach the Word

I wish someone had sat me down and shared the exceeding value of preaching expository sermons when I started pastoring. I was coming up with 4-5 topical messages every week right out of Bible College and I thought I was going to kill myself doing it. I would wrestle and wrestle with what topic to preach about, but found myself becoming drier spiritually.

Then one day I realized that if I preached expositorily my preaching would actually be richer and my study time more focused. I could preach on topics as they come up in the text that I wouldn’t otherwise touch doing a topical message or series. I also realized I was creating a better sense of the wider and deeper appreciation of Scripture within the congregation (and myself) rather than fragmented passages strung together creating a pastiche of whatever I could come up with. It forced me to wrestle with the difficult portions of Scripture and to wrestle with the context of God’s dealing with His people throughout the ages. I believe I have become a better reader of Scripture and a better listener to the voice of the Spirit to the church through a faithful hearing of God’s word.

I have since advised many younger pastors to preach expository messages and was delighted to see that Enrichment Journal just posted an article dealing with this topic from a Pentecostal perspective on their online section ( “Why Pentecostals Don’t Preach Expository Sermons” ). What do you think about expository preaching? What are some of its weaknesses or strengths as you understand them?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why I'm Celebrating Earth Day...

The current issue of "Assemblies of God Heritage" magazine (GPH 2010, pgs.16-26, 69) has a wonderful article on the Pentecostal origins of Earth Day.  You can download the article "John McConnell, Jr. and the Pentecostal Origins of Earth Day" as a pdf.  I recently visited with Darrin Rodgers (editor of Heritage magazine and Pentecostal historian) about this topic and thoroughly appreciated his recent article on it.  I think you'll be surprised by what you find.  This article is the reason I'll be celebrating Earth Day this year (on Sunday, March 21st)...thank you John McConnell, Jr.  Just one brief snippet to whet your appetite:
McConnell's purpose was to promote "a climate of peace and justice as a prerequisite for ecological preservation"...[as opposed to its now having become, at the hands of Senator Nelson,] a political protest against pollution.'
You can also watch a lengthy interview of John and Anna McConnell concerning Earth Day by Darrin here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ezekiel 6-7 – Too Late to Repent

6:1 – Can Ezekiel speak apart from the word of the LORD coming to Him? (cf. 7:1; and see 3:27)

6:2 – “set your face against the mountains of Israel”? Perhaps this has reference to the “high places” (6:3, 13) though the “high places” could also be in the valleys. More likely it is a judgment against the land (as the king, people, and temple are also judged).

6:3 – “hear the word of the Sovereign LORD” as a prophetic introduction see Josh.3:9; 1 Sam.15:1; 2 Kings 7:1; 20:5; Amos 7:16; Isa.1:10; 28:14, 16.

6:4-7 – What is the reason the LORD gives for why He will do what He pronounces: You will know that I am Yahweh. He will show the idols and sacred places to be worthless and those who worship such to be as what they worship (cf. Ps.135:15-18). The word for “idols” (Heb. gillulim) is not the normal term, but one of derision for the worthlessness of the idols basically identifying them with excrement (Block NICOT 226). “Scatter the bones around your altars” implies that they will surround the altars they have already surrounded but instead of dancing and worship it will be as the dead and judged (Duguid NIVAC 108)

6:8-10 – Those who are scattered exiles will be those sanctified by the LORD and not those who remain in the land. God’s judgment means ultimate redemption. Dan Block (NICOT 231-233) notes three things the remnant exiles will do: 1) remember the LORD; 2) loathe themselves; and 3) “know that I am Yahweh” (6:13-14; 7:4, 9, 27). This last phrase is key to the whole of the prophecy (cf. Exo.14:4, 18).

6:11 – “Strike your hands together” (or “clap your hands”)? This is as a sign of God’s anger with Israel (see Num.24:10; Eze.21:14, 17; 22:13). He is also told “stomp your feet” which is a sign of condemnation and rejection. “Alas!” does not convey the more direct translational value of “Ah!” (the sound of a disgusted sigh).

6:12 – Is there any escaping from the LORD? (see Ps.139)

6:13-14 – The irony is that “rather than offering life to the devotees, the pagan sanctuaries have become symbols of death” (Block NICOT 237). “From the desert to Diblah” (should read “Riblah” – the ‘d’ and ‘r’ look almost identical in Hebrew) means from the south to the very far north the LORD will desolate everywhere.

7:2-6 – “The end…”? What does this mean? Also, is the LORD’s judgment just? In what manner will He judge? Is the end “coming” or has it “come” already? Why will God not have pity?

7:10, 12, 17, 19 – The “day” of the LORD is the “moment of his intervention in human history, with the outcomes of such interventions being determined by him alone” (Block NICOT 244).

7:10-13 – Note the agricultural and commercial irony. What relation does “blossoming”, “budding” and the “staff” have to Aaron’s staff in Num.17:8?

7:14 – What is this verse referring to? Nebuchadrezzar’s approach and Jerusalem’s fall. Why is everyone judged? Were all of Israel wicked? Why do the righteous suffer with the wicked?

7:15-18 – Where is escape? It is of interest that those who escape do so to the mountains (cf. Mt.24:16; Mk.13:15; Lk.21:21). Are those who survive going to rejoice? Why not? What are the expressions in vs.17 meant to express? Apparently an utter lack of composure (the LXX and most modern commentators understand this to suggest they will wet themselves).

7:19 – What good is gold and silver in the day of the LORD’s wrath?

7:20-22 – The “beautiful jewelry” may suggest (following Rabbis Rashi and Kimchi) the treasures of the temple (7:22-23) which would make the acts of Israel that much worse. How might the treasury be “defiled” and “desecrated”? “The wicked of the earth” are used as God’s hand of judgment. John Calvin in his commentary on Ezekiel wrote concerning this, “They are borne along by a depraved disposition, but God has a wonderful plan, incomprehensible to us, according to which he impels the wicked here and there—without becoming involved in their guilt (cited in Duguid NIVAC 122).

7:23-24 – Who is the LORD telling to “prepare chains”? What is the reason? (cf. Gen.6:11) Note that the LORD says, “I will…” concerning the judgment (see who “strikes the blow” in 7:9).

7:25-27 – “They will seek peace but…” there will be no help for anyone. “Then they will know…”? (cf. 2 Pet.3:3-4)

Monday, March 15, 2010

(Moltmann on) Bonhoeffer on the Old Testament

John Hobbins (one of my personal favorite bloggers to read) just posted an article that I found wonderful entitled: Moltmann on Bonhoeffer's Approach to the Old Testament (and he has helpfully translated the German for those of us not able currently able to read such).  It does indeed seem that many want to attain to the knowledge of God without the struggle to attain such.  We must study the OT intently (but more importantly be studied by it) and finally come to grips with the One who is Holy and demands that His people be as He is, before thinking that we can just be Jesus' "friend".  We need the other-ness of God to really appreciate the this-ness of God.  We need the fear of God to really appreciate the mercy, grace and love of God.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

You Are the Light of the World

Listening to audiobook of "Cost of Discipleship" by Bonhoeffer, reminds me why I appreciate his work so much. A particular quote (taken from the Touchstone 1995 edition; pg. 117) that struck me the other day was this one on Matthew 5:14, "You are the light of the world...":

The call of Jesus makes the disciple community not only the salt but also the light of the world: their activity is visible, as well as perceptible. "Ye are the light." Once again it is not: "You are to be the light" they are already the light because Christ has called them, they are a light which is seen of men, they cannot be otherwise, and if they were it would be a sign that they had not been called. How imossible, how utterly absurd it would be for the disciples--these disciples, such men as these!--to try and become the light of the world! No, they are already the light, and the call has made them so. Nor does Jesus say: "You have the light." The light is not an instrument which has been put into their hands, such as their preaching. It is the disciples themselves. The same Jesus who, speaking of himself, said, "I am the light," says to his followers: "You are the light in your whole existence, provided you remain faithful to your calling. And since you are that light, you can no longer remain hidden, even if you want to."
What are your thoughts about this statement of Jesus? What do you think of Bonhoeffer's reading of the text?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What About Bob?

My younger brother Bob has just finished his second Masters (Information Systems Technology).  He earned this one at the University of Indiana Bloomington and up until recently I was unable to comprehend just what it was he was studying, but then my brother Alfonso pointed me to Bob's You-tube site where I found this "informative" video (hope you enjoy):

I figured I would post this educational video here for others who have inquired about what Bob has been up to...for those interested he and his wife and daughter are now in the process of moving to Brazil in a few months when Grace finishes her Masters (Library Science) in Bloomington.

Make sure to check out some of Bob's excellent work (including the scrib'd "Essays in Biblical Interpretation").

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pentecostals in the Middle

I continue to struggle with a pentecostalism that is given to one of two extremes: unthinking emotionalism with zeal and an anything-goes stodgy critical liberalism. While the former is the more traditional manner among pentecostals, the latter is apparently more typically normative among those who are educated beyond the grad-level in Biblical studies. It is a strange thing to be exposed to these two extremes within a week in a setting among pentecostal leaders.

Where is the middle? Those who would be critical in their thinking about all things pentecostal (while holding to a conservative hermeneutic), but zealous and impassioned. I was thankful to encounter and interact with such middle pentecostals at both events (as well as to have such in my own congregation), but wonder...why aren't THEY the ones who are leading the charge in the wider pentecostal circles?  Is there room for a middle pentecostal leadership that holds a place of priority among the wider pentecostal body or is there only room for the extremes (the one in the wider Church; the other in wider academia)?

In the end, I hope and pray I am a pentecostal disciple of Jesus that loves God with all my being and am faithful to His revelation in whatever circle of influence I find myself...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Ezekiel 4-5 – Playing God Against Jerusalem

4:1-3 – Why the illustrated sermon? Or is it far more than an illustrated sermon? Does this prophetic play act (“sign-acts” Block NICOT 164-167) effect what is dramatized? Why does Ezekiel make a model of Jerusalem and then lay siege to it?

4:3 – What is the reason for the sign (Heb. 'ot)? (Eze.12:6, 11; 24:24; cf. Ex.7:5; 9:13-17; Deut.4:32-39) 'That they may know that I am Yahweh' (LORD).

4:3-4 – To whom does “House of Israel” refer? To the northern ten tribes or to the whole united kingdom of Israel? It seems most likely it refers (in this section's context) to refer to the whole with Jerusalem as the only rightful center of the nation (see Eze.4:13; 5:4).

4:4-5 – What does the 390 (LXX “190”) days per year refer to? Likely to the time since Solomon built the Temple of the LORD, the Glory filled it, and shortly thereafter he led the nation into idolatry (1 Ki.11:1-8, 33; 14:21-24; Eze.20:27-29). This would place the beginning at about 976 BC. Did Ezekiel really lay on his side for 390 days or was it only portions of each day? Also, what does it mean that he was to “bear the sins” of Israel and Judah? (see Ex.28:38; Num.18:1) What then does the 40 days refer to? Likely it refers to an exilic generation.

4:6 – For each day being in the place of a year see Num.14:33-35.

4:7 – Why does Ezekiel “bare his arm” against Jerusalem? It was “a military gesture of a warrior preparing for battle” (Block NICOT 180; see a similar statement where the LORD bares His arm in Isa.52:10).

4:8 – Again, what does it mean that the LORD tells Ezekiel to do all these things and yet also tells he will bind him with ropes so he cannot get up? Is Ezekiel responsible or the LORD?

4:9 – What do we make of the strange mixture (grains and legumes) for the bread Ezekiel was supposed to eat for 390 days? “The strange mixture symbolizes a situation where the scarcity was such that no one kind of grain was plentiful enough on its own to make a whole loaf” (Duguid NIVAC 89).

4:10-11 – What is our measurement of how much Ezekiel was allowed to eat and drink each day and what did it signify?

4:12 – Why was the cake “like a barley cake”? It seems this was because the bread of the poor was barley.

4:13-15 - “Use human excrement for fuel”? For the meaning of this (see Eze.4:14; cf. Deut.23:11-13); for Ezekiel's plea for purity in himself (see Lev.7:18; 19:7; Deut.26:13-15). How should we understand Ezekiel's plea (intercession?) and the LORD's relenting? Is he representative of the few among the remnant that would yet remain pure? Why did he not ask for a relenting of the other commands?

4:16-17 – Scarcity is the judgment of the LORD against Israel for unfaithfulness to the covenant (Lev.26).

5:1 – Using a sword as a barber's razor? For priestly laws concerning shaving (see Num.6:5; 8:7); for examples of shaving in certain circumstances being wrong and a sign of judgment (see Lev.21:5; Deut.14:1; Isa.7:20; Eze.44:20). Why was Ezekiel to use a scale to weigh the hair? This would seem to be because the LORD was going to be very exacting and deliberate in His judgments of Israel.

5:2-4 – What happened to each portion of hair and what is the significance? (5:12) Who will pursue Israel in judgment? Why were “a few strands of hair” to be kept in the fold of Ezekiel's garments? Note that 5:4 speaks of removing even some of these kept hairs and also burning them? (Lev.26:36-39)

5:5-7 – Is the LORD's election of Israel unqualified? (Eze.5:6; cf Luke 12:48; Heb.6:4-12; 10:26-31). According to 5:7, what is the LORD's charge against Israel?

5:8-10 – What a fearful thing to hear the LORD say, “I myself am against you” (contrast this with “I am with you” in Gen.28:15; 26:3, 24, ; 31:3). What does 5:9 teach us about the LORD's judgment? In 5:10 we are horrified by a judgment of family cannibalism, but this is the zonsequence of covenantal disobedience (see Lev.26:29; Deut.28:53-57; 2 Ki.6:24-31; Isa.9:19-21; 49:26; Jer.19:9; Zech.11:9; Lam.4:10).

5:11-13 – Is the LORD's judgment “fair”? How should we understand the LORD swearing by his own life and what does it mean when He says, “I will not look on you with pity”? (see Deut.7:16; 13:8; 19:13, 21; 25:12; but also see the hope of Lev.26:44-45)

5:14-15 – Note the response of the nations around Israel and the judgments comparison to the promised judgments of the Song of Moses (Deut.32:23-25).

Monday, March 01, 2010

When the "Cost of Discipleship" is Free

I just received notification (and immediately downloaded) the latest freeby audio book from Bonhoeffer's "Cost of Discipleship" (which just happens to be one of the greatest reads of ALL time in my humble opinion :-).  So if you are interested it should be available for free download the entire month of March.  You will not find another book so powerfully discussing Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.  As a quick disclaimer...I haven't listened to it to hear the reader and I also am not certain what some of the Koine Greek will sound like being read (but it should be wonderful fun).  Also, I'm not certain yet if the critical edition of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works - English (vol. 4 "Discipleship") was used or the popular mass market version...but either way you can't go wrong.  Happy listening!