August 26, 2012 David Balzer

Ezekiel 37:15-28: Exile

A car hooned down our street the other day. One of our neighbours was crossing the road and nearly got run over. He gestured for him to slow down. The driver’s reaction? He blasted his horn, and stuck up his finger.

Or the Park Ranger tells you that you can’t sit on the grass and you’ll have to move. Is your first reaction to apologise and get up? Or is it to stand your ground, defend your right to sit wherever you FEEL like?

How do YOU react to correction? Are you GOOD at taking criticism? Do you listen, examine yourself, and if necessary make a change? Or do you secretly BRISTLE inside? “How DARE they tell me what to do? What RIGHT do they have? How about they took a good look at THEMSELVES before they start pointing the finger at ME!”

You may not actually DO what that driver did. Or that person sitting on the grass. But I wonder whether you’ve FELT like doing it.

How do you react to correction?

And what about if the One providing the correction is GOD? That’s the situation for Israel as we pick up the story at week SIX of our cruise through the whole Bible.

We’re following the ONE STORY of the Bible. God builds a blessed kingdom of people from the descendants of Abraham. The nation of Israel.

Last week we saw how Solomon turned away from following God to follow idols. Horses and gold and women captured his heart instead.

The kingdom divided

And so God split his kingdom in two. The kingdom DIVIDED. A NORTHERN kingdom of Israel. 10 tribes. And a SOUTHERN kingdom of Judah. 2 tribes. The year was 930 BC.

And for the next 200 years, through the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Kings, kings come and go. But no one follows God like they should. North or South. Israel or Judah. It makes no difference. People would rather worship IDOLS than worship the One true God. They’d rather do things THEIR way than God’s way.

Kingdom EXILED

And so God finally brings about the correction he’d WARNED them about. All the way back when the people were about to enter the Promised Land. Moses had preached to them.

And in Deut 28 he warned them about the CURSES God would bring for DISOBEDIENCE. Curses of drought and barrenness. Of frustration and defeat and poverty. Of plagues and sickness. Warnings to turn back. And to do things God’s way.

And finally, if they CONTINUE in disobedience, Moses warns them (v63)

63 Just as it pleased the LORD to make you PROSPER AND INCREASE IN NUMBER, so it will please him to RUIN AND DESTROY YOU. You will be UPROOTED FROM THE LAND you are entering to possess. 64 Then the LORD will SCATTER YOU AMONG ALL NATIONS, from ONE end of the earth to the OTHER.

The ULTIMATE CORRECTION. Exile!

It’s a DISSOLVING of God’s kingdom. Removal from the LAND. And scattering among the nations. No longer God’s PEOPLE. No longer in God’s LAND. Because they refuse to live under God’s RULE.

And the kingdom of God, that looked like it was getting CLOSER, suddenly seems so much further away.

And, in the fullness of time, God’s warnings came true. 722 BC, the NORTHERN kingdom was defeated by Assyria, and the people scattered all over the place. Plenty killed. Some carried off to Assyria, others re-settled. And then OTHER nations brought in to settle the land.

And the SOUTHERN kingdom didn’t escape EITHER. 586 BC Babylon broke through the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, killed thousands, then carried off all the survivors to Babylon.

And God’s plans for his KINGDOM looked in tatters. So much for God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. PEOPLE dead or scattered. No LAND. And not interested in being under God’s RULE.

Promises, promises

But if God had PREDICTED all these events. Then he must have PLANNED them. And if he’d PLANNED them, then he must have done it FOR A REASON.

And we begin to SEE those reasons as we read through the books of the major prophets in the Old Testament. Like Jeremiah, who prophesied in Judah before and after its exile. Or Ezekiel, who was carried off to Babylon with the rest of the exiles.

And what we find God giving them are PROMISES FOR HIS PEOPLE. Promises to sustain them through the refining fire. Promises to reassure them. Reassure them that God was behind it all, moving nations and kings for HIS PURPOSES.

But not only THAT. Promises that, ONE DAY, he’d bring GOOD out of it. And BRING THEM BACK. Restore them to the land. Get his great plan for his blessed kingdom back on track. RESTORE his kingdom.

Promises like in Ezekiel 37. The people are DISTRAUGHT. They’re like DEAD MEN WALKING. Without hope or energy. But look at the BROAD SCOPE of all God promised to do. V11. “The whole house of Israel say

Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will BRING YOU BACK TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL.

God’s going to RESTORE them. But that’s not all. V14.

14 I will put my SPIRIT in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land

Not just his Spirit for the select few. For the prophet or king. But for EVERYONE. Back in Ch 36 God explained what THAT would mean. V25

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

God’s Spirit would CLEAN them. Wash their sins away. And then give them a new heart. A new desire and ability to keep his laws.

But wait, there’s more! Back over in Ch 37 v15 to 22. They won’t be TWO nations anymore. I’ll JOIN THEM BACK TOGETHER.

“I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them ONE NATION IN THE LAND

But wait there’s MORE. Not only one NATION. There’d be ONE KING to RULE them. Not TWO kings – one for each kingdom. ONE king. And WHAT a king he’d be. V22.

There will be ONE KING over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE, AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD.

24 “‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will FOLLOW MY LAWS and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 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 forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will ESTABLISH them and INCREASE THEIR NUMBERS, and I will put my SANCTUARY among them forever. 27 My DWELLING PLACE will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.'”

NIV

Here’s God committing himself to the promises he’d made to ABRAM. Promises to be his God. Promises to bless him with a nation of children. And a land for them to live in.

And it’s God committing himself to the promises he’d made to DAVID. That one of his offspring would rule on the throne. And it would be an ETERNAL REIGN.

And with the help of his Spirit and his king, his people would follow his laws. And he’d be their God and they’d be his people.

It’s nothing more than promises that God would RE-ESTABLISH HIS KINGDOM. His PEOPLE in his PLACE under his RULE.

And notice that he’s promising to put his DWELLING PLACE among them? And to be with them FOREVER. It’s the word for the Tabernacle. The tent the people would pitch in the middle of the camp as they wandered around in the wilderness. But now God’s promising to dwell with his people FOREVER.

In v26 he calls it his SANCTUARY. Or his HOLY PLACE. A holy place with God living right among his sinful unholy people! Forever! Just IMAGINE it! What a promise!

Attitude to Correction

But for the people and for Ezekiel, those days are off into the future. AT THE MOMENT, they’re stuck in Babylon. Far from their land. Far from the temple. And they’re MISERABLE.

What they need is some instruction to help them get through the practical realities of THAT situation. And Jeremiah’s got some home truths for them. Jeremiah 31 v18. God’s HEARD them. He hasn’t FORGOTTEN them. In fact, he’s been DISCIPLINING them. Correcting them. And they may even be ready to LISTEN. V18 of Ch 31. God says

18 “I HAVE SURELY HEARD EPHRAIM’S MOANING: (they say) ‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been DISCIPLINED. RESTORE me, and I will RETURN, because you are the LORD my God. 19 After I strayed, I REPENTED; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’

Israel’s being PUNISHED. Sent to her room. And she’s recognised her mistake. “Restore me, and I’ll return.” And God’s ready to LISTEN. V20.

20 Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD.

Just like a HUMAN parent who reassures his child of his love after disciplining. That’s what GOD does. He LOVES his people. And he wants the correction to actually MAKE A CHANGE for the BETTER in the lives of his people.

It’s exactly the POINT of disciplining.

But there’s got to be the RIGHT ATTITUDE to CORRECTION. And, just maybe, that’s what Israel’s GOT. Just MAYBE now she’ll learn to live God’s way.

That’s all very well. But the END of the correction’s still off in the distance.

So what about TODAY? TOMORROW? What does it mean PRACTICALLY for his people stuck in exile? Should they rebel and plot and scheme? Work to bring about God’s plans IN A HURRY? Should they COMPLAIN that God’s being too tough on them?

Jeremiah’s got some fascinating advice for them back in Ch 29. It was a letter he sent from Jerusalem to the leaders of the people in exile. V4, This is what the LORD Almighty says to those in exile.

5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

React to God’s correction WELL, he says. Take it on board. Learn from it. Endure it patiently. And God will bring things to pass IN HIS TIME.

In the meantime, SHOW your trust in God by GETTING ON WITH LIFE. Settle down. Marry. Build houses, Plant gardens. Increase in number.

Don’t live out of a suitcase. Don’t live with one eye on the calendar. Don’t grumble. ENJOY life where God’s put you. THAT’S the attitude to correction you should have.

And then in v10 God gives MORE wonderful promises.

10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 THEN you will CALL upon me and come and pray to me, and I will LISTEN to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

God’s plans are set. And they’re plans for their GOOD, not EVIL. That’s the thing about discipline. It doesn’t SEEM like it’s good. The CHILD always feels like they’ve been picked on and victimised. But the wise parent knows that discipline might be PAIN in the SHORT term. But it’s GAIN in the LONG term.

And that’s the way God’s planning it HERE.

Return from exile – Ezra, Nehemiah

And that’s the way it WORKS OUT.

Daniel 9. Daniel’s in exile in Babylon. And he reads about Jeremiah and the 70 years. And he starts PRAYING. And REPENTING.

And the books of EZRA AND NEHEMIAH tell the story of how the return HAPPENS. King Cyrus of Persia conquers Babylon, 538 BC. And he lets the people go back to build the temple under the leadership of Ezra. And later Nehemiah returns to build the city walls.

And by the end of Nehemiah, things are looking PROMISING. The TEMPLE is up and running, and the city walls are complete. God’s PEOPLE are back in God’s LAND.

But the question, as always, is ARE THEY UNDER GOD’S RULE? People like Daniel have PRAYED and REPENTED. People like NEHEMIAH tried to reform society. But are the REST of the people ready to obey him with all their heart and soul?

And the short answer, if we look at the end of Nehemiah, is NO. They’re NOT. Nehemiah comes back to visit a few years later. And it’s like that movie Groundhog Day. People making the same mistakes over and over again. Following other idols, marrying foreign women, being led astray. Just like Solomon!

It’s frustrating for Nehemiah. Imagine how frustrating it must be FOR GOD!

It’s like they’ve LEARNED NOTHING. After everything they’ve been through, the problem is they HAVEN’T turned back to God with all their hearts AT ALL. Their attitude to correction has been TO FORGET IT. IGNORE it.

And that’s where the story of the Old Testament finishes. UNFULFILLED EXPECTATION. Waiting for God’s kingdom. Waiting for the sequel. Waiting for the REST of God’s promises to happen.

He’s brought them back to the LAND. But what about the OTHERS. The promise of the gift of his Spirit? To wash them clean? The promise of a new heart?

The promise of being joined as ONE NATION? The promise of ONE KING from David’s line to RULE them? To shepherd them and help them to keep God’s law.

Or what about the promise for God to make his DWELLING PLACE among his people

And after four hundred years of WAITING. God comes GOOD on his promises. A son of a son of a son of David IS born. Matthew announces him

1:1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:

And after going through all the generations, he finishes with

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born JESUS, WHO IS CALLED CHRIST.

And so a Son of David comes to Israel, just like God promised.

And 30 years later, that baby grows up. And when John the Baptist announces his arrival, he describes him like THIS. Mt 3:11

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will BAPTIZE YOU WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT and with fire.

The One who would bring the Holy Spirit to wash his people clean. So they COULD obey God with all their heart and soul. Just like God had PROMISED.

And when John the gospel writer describes Jesus’ coming, he puts it like THIS. John 1:14.

14 The Word became flesh and made his DWELLING among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God put on FLESH, in the person of Jesus. And came and TABERNACLED among us. Pitched his tent in the MIDST of us. Just like he’d PROMISED through Ezekiel.

And that Son of David would go on to END the cycle of sin and punishment. Of disobedience and CORRECTION. He’d bring an END to the EXILE.

Because he’d die in the place of sinners. Taking God’s wrath. Satisfying his righteous judgment. So that sinful children didn’t HAVE to bear it. And could stand forgiven. No longer to be exiled. Sent to the naughty corner. No more living in fear of condemnation. Rom 8:1 says

8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

If you’re a Christian, then that’s where you stand NOW. No more in fear of judgment. No more to be punished or exiled. All because of Jesus.

Which gets us back to the question I began with this morning. How do you react to correction? Especially GOD’S correction.

Do you buck against it? Bristle with self-righteous indignation? Grumble and complain that you don’t deserve it? Or that God’s being unfair to pick on YOU? And that’s there’s plenty of OTHER people who have WORSE faults. And their life seems to going along FINE!

Or maybe do you get DEJECTED. Get angry, or wallow in self-pity. And complain that God’s PUNISHING you because you’ve sinned. And that OTHER people must be better, because they’re lives are less difficult.

But the reality is if you belong to Jesus then the exile is over. The punishment’s been PAID. There’s no condemnation for you. Jesus has already been punished for your sin. God won’t punish you again for them.

But he IS the loving Heavenly Father who DISCIPLINES you. Who uses the difficulties of life to MOULD and CHANGE you. To make you more like Jesus. To grow patience and love and humility and trust in you.

So rather than COMPLAIN and GRUMBLE. Take the advice Jeremiah gave the exiled Jews. Get on with it and ENJOY the life God’s placed you in. Settle down. Plant gardens. Be CONTENT.

Work for the GOOD of your job, or your landlord, or your suburb, or school. Work for the GOOD of your children or your spouse.

Have a good hard look at yourself. And ask yourself what areas of your life God might want to be CORRECTING you in. And take the correction WELL. With a GOOD attitude. That’s what will be for YOUR benefit and God’s APPROVAL.

Those are the ACTIONS that show the ATTITUDE of TRUSTING that God’s got it in control. And he’s USING it for his purposes. Jer 29:11.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

He is our loving HEAVENLY FATHER. And he SHOWS it by correcting us. Receive it WELL. And BENEFIT from it.

Let me finish with the exhortation from Heb 12:5

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”  7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our SPIRITS and live! 10 OUR fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us FOR OUR GOOD, THAT WE MAY SHARE IN HIS HOLINESS. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it PRODUCES A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PEACE for those who have been trained by it. 12 THEREFORE, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

That’s the attitude to have to correction! May that be OURS!

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