Sunday, May 5
Ezechiel 33: This chapter has four parts. In the first (33:1-9) the prophet is portrayed as a watchman keeping vigil over a city, responsible for warning the citizens of any impending peril. It is not the concern of the watchman whether or not the citizens pay him any heed; his responsibility is simply to sound the warning. The remaining responsibility belongs to the citizens themselves. The dominant images in this part are the sword and the trumpet. This theme of warning is what joins the first part to the second (33:10-20). In biblical prophecy there is often an implied hypothesis: “Such-and-such will happen, unless . . .” Many prophetic predictions contain, by implication, a conditional clause: “If . . . then . . .” In this second part of the chapter Ezechiel repeats much of the message that we saw in Chapter 18; namely, it is not what a man was that is important, but what he becomes. Consequently, neither former good nor former evil will be credited to a man who has changed his ways. The third part of this chapter (33:21f) takes up the narrative of Ezechiel’s life, broken off after Chapter 24 by the insertion of the oracles against the nations (Chapters 25-32). We recall that Ezechiel’s wife had died, leaving him struck dumb with grief. At that time the Lord foretold to him that he would recover his speech when a messenger arrived to tell of Jerusalem’s downfall (24:25-27). This third part of Chapter 33 now tells of the arrival of that messenger on January 8, 585, narrating Jerusalem’s fall the previous summer. The walls of Jerusalem had been breached in July (cf. Jeremiah 39:2; 52:6f), and a month later the temple had been deliberately destroyed (2 Kings 25:8f; Jeremiah 52:12). When this news reaches him, Ezechiel’s tongue is loosened, and he is once again ready to be God’s spokesman. Therewith follows the fourth part of this chapter (33:23-33), which blames the desolation of the Holy Land on the sins of its inhabitants. Ezechiel’s fellow hostages in Babylon love to hear him for his eloquence, and they come often to listen to him. But it will do them no good, for they refuse to repent. Too late will they learn what they missed.
Monday, May 6
Ezechiel 34: Ezechiel knows that the recent disaster at Jerusalem and its dire consequences, such as the scattering of God’s people, was in large measure the fault of those appointed to care for them: the royal house and the government, the priesthood, the teachers. All of these were Israel’s shepherds, commissioned by God to tend, govern, and feed the sheep. Not only did they fail to do so, but their relationship to God’s people had been grandly self-serving. Thus, unfed and without guidance, the flock had “been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” God Himself, however, will come to shepherd them, and He will do so through His Anointed One, the new David, who will inherit the promises made to his ancient forebear (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89 ). This imagery and its promise will in due course be taken up by that new David who, in John 10, describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. Ezechiel then (34:17-22) criticizes some of the sheep themselves, who exploited and ill-treated one another. God will judge them, not by classes, but as individuals (“sheep by sheep”) responsible for their decisions and their behavior. The final section of this chapter (verses 25-30) describes the coming care of the Good Shepherd in terms reminiscent of paradise (compare Psalm 72 ).
Tuesday, May 7
Ezechiel 35: In this chapter we find toward the Edomites, symbolized in Mount Seir, that same spirit of bitter condemnation that inspired the prophecy of Obadiah and the last several verses of Psalm 137 (136). The material here expands on ideas found in a seminal form in Ezechiel 25:12-14. Edom has assisted and cheered on the Babylonians in their wanton destruction of the temple. Ezechiel is our witness that the Edomites hoped to annex territory left open by the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (verse 10), but they will not do so, he tells us, because God has other plans for that land. Those plans of God form the substance of the next chapter.
Wednesday, May 8
Ezechiel 36: As the previous oracle was addressed to Mount Seir in Edom, so this one (36:1-15) is addressed to the mountains of Israel. It condemns all the nations that have set themselves against God’s people, but special attention is given, once again, to the Edomites (verse 5). In verse 8 Ezechiel begins a series of several prophecies of the Israelites’ return to their homes. Whereas in Chapter 6 he had infallibly foretold to these same mountains the many sufferings that has since ensued, he now tells them, again infallibly, of the joys that lie ahead. And why should God perform these mercies, in view of the fact that Israel has deserved all that it has suffered (36:16-20)? Because of His own gracious election (36:21-38). God will pour out all these new blessings on His people in order to testify to the gratuity and steadfastness of His choice. God will be faithful, even though Israel has not been faithful. The most famous lines of this section are in verses 26-28, repetitious of 11:19-20 and reminiscent of Jeremiah 31:31-34. God will restore Israel, not because of the merits of Israel, but to vindicate His covenant fidelity. The gift of cleansing and a new heart is entirely God’s, but it will not be given except in the context of repentance (verse 31).
Ascension Thursday, May 9
Ezechiel 37: We come now to Ezechiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones, unarguably the best known part of this book. It consists of a Spirit-given experience (37:1-10), followed by an interpretation (37:11-14). In its immediate historical sense, the valley of the dry bones represents Israel after Jerusalem’s destruction in 586. As a prophecy to be fulfilled in the fullness of time, it refers to the resurrection of the dead, of which the principle and first-fruit is the resurrection of Christ. (Hence it is most appropriate for us to be reading this text on Ascension Thursday, the feast celebrating the heavenly exaltation of Christ’s risen flesh.) In this vision the dynamic principle in the resurrection of the dead is the same Spirit who brought the prophet to the valley (verse 1). The reader should bear in mind that, all through this chapter, there is a single Hebrew word (ruah) translated in different ways (“Spirit,” “breath,” “wind”), simply because no one English word expresses the fullness of its meaning (Cf. also Genesis 1:2). This section is followed by another prophetic pantomime (37:15-17), accompanied by an interpretation (37:18-23), according to which all of God’s people will be rejoined, with the new David to shepherd them (37:24-28).
Friday, May 10
Ezechiel 38: In the composition of the Book of Ezechiel, Chapters 38-39 are especially striking and, at first sight, incongruous. Nonetheless, they form an intentional link between the promises in Chapter 37 and the prophecies of God’s final temple in Chapters 40-48. Chapters 38-39 describe a terrible invasion from the north, led by a commander of an international army (38:2-6,15), named Gog. This invasion is not imminent; it will come “in the latter years” (38:8), a reference to the indefinite future (indefinite because only God knows the future) that may be described as the “last times.” Gog represents the final great enemy of God’s people, and his invasion will be the last great attack against God’s kingdom. The name “Gog” would have surprised none of Ezechiel’s contemporaries, for it was the name of a person from the somewhat recent past and still well known in the sixth century before Christ. The Hebrew name Gog corresponds to the Assyrian Gugu and the Greek Gyges. He was a famous seventh century king of Lydia in Asia Minor, who had died in 644. Accounts of the original Gog are found in Assyrian annals and the History of Herodotus. (If Ezechiel were writing today, he might use, for the same purpose, “Bismarck” or “Garibaldi.”) The name is not especially important for the identification of the invader; like all the other names in this chapter, it is symbolic of evil realities much larger and more menacing than their historical references. Thus understood, Gog and his forces will reappear in Revelation 20. (“Magog,” by the way, appears to be an abbreviation of the Hebrew min-Gog, “from Gog.” In the Book of Revelation he is a derived ally of Gog.) The most important thing to know about Gog is that God’s people do not need to fear him, for his doom has already been determined.
Saturday, May 11
Ezechiel 39: This continuation of the previous chapter uses the mystic number seven (the inference reached by the addition of the divine number three and the human number four [and if you multiply them, you arrive at the other mystic number, twelve]) to designate the number of years that the burning of the discarded weapons will supply the need for fuel. Seven, too, will be the number of months required to bury all the dead from Gog’s great army. In this section, verses 11-16, we see Ezechiel’s priestly preoccupation with ritual purity (cf. Numbers 5:2; 19:16; 35:33f). So great will be the battle’s carnage that the beasts and carrion birds will be glutted with the corpses (verses 17-20; cf. Revelation 19:17-21). The chapter ends with a summary of God’s restoration of Israel, which brings this third part of Ezechiel to a close.