June 15, 2010 David Balzer

Ezekiel 40-48: Up Close and Personal

Distant and Close. Can you be both at the same time?  Is it possible to be intimate and near to someone, at the same time as being isolated from them?

Modern communication makes it much easier to kept close contact with people even though you’re thousands of km’s away. I spent 15 minutes talking to Dad during the week. All the way in Vanuatu. It felt like he was just in the next room.

Even better is VIDEO-CONFERENCING. I can speak to AND see someone in Antarctica. LIVE.

Lots of business meetings use it. Even SCHOOLS are talking about joining together, sharing teachers, and joining classes to video-conference lessons.

Close yet distant.

Or think about the reverse. Geographically close, but still distant.

Imagine you’re married to someone. Let’s say you’ve been together for 15 years. And you THINK you know them COMPLETELY. Sleep in the same bed. Hang each other’s undies on the line. Finish each other’s sentences.

Until you find out one day that they’ve been having a long-term affair. You thought you knew them, but you didn’t. You were close GEOGRAPHICALLY, but distant EMOTIONALLY.

Or suppose someone’s in prison. His wife is allowed a weekly visit. And as she sits down behind the glass wall, she stretches out her hand and touches the glass that separates her from her husband. He does the same. Two hands, within 5 mm of each other. But separated by a huge gap. A gap of experience, and potential, of freedoms and opportunities. Close SPATIALLY, but distant in REALITY.

Or what about God? Can HE be both distant and close? Separate AND intimate? The message of the Bible, as hard as it is to comprehend. Is Yes, he can.

In the language of theology, there’s two big words we use to describe these two characteristics of God. IMMANENCE and TRANSCENDENCE.

God’s IMMANENCE means that he’s CLOSE. He hears our prayers, he’s interested in how we live. He communicates with us in human language. He’s IMMANENT.

But he’s also very DISTANT. He’s FAR ABOVE us, and BEYOND us, and DIFFERENT to us.

He’s not bound by a physical body, we are. He’s eternal, and all-powerful, and all-knowing, and present everywhere. And we’re NOT.

He’s completely holy, morally pure, righteous in all his thoughts, and actions and words. And we’re not.

Despite all of this DISTANCE between us and God, he chose to cross the gap. To become IMMANENT. To communicate through creation, through his word, through prophets, and promises, and the law. Through his Holy Spirit. And ultimately through his Son.

The Book of Hebrews begins like this.

(Heb 1:1-3 NIV)  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, {2} but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. {3} The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,”

It’s a profound mystery that God is, at the same time, both transcendent AND immanent. It’s the message of the Bible.

In fact the Bible ITSELF is EVIDENCE of this. It’s evidence of God’s IMMANENCE. Because it’s the record of God’s communication to us…. But it also describes a God who’s incredibly TRANSCENDENT and DIFFERENT from us.

And it’s this very CONTRADICTION which is the essence of THE GOSPEL. The good news is that a holy and just God who can’t stand sin. Would bridge the gap to allow sinful people like us to be forgiven. To become CLOSE to him.

Closeness and distance . It’s been a theme right through Ezekiel. At the start, the people are exiled in Babylon. DISTANT from the land, from the temple. And perhaps even from God. Yet God VISITS them. He is CLOSE, though DISTANT.

And then in Ch 8, Ezekiel sees a vision. The people are IN THE TEMPLE. They’re PHYSICALLY close, but DISTANT. Because their hearts are far from God. They’re wicked. And so God has to LEAVE. To DISTANCE himself.

And for punishment, the people are EXILED. REMOVED from the land.

And then, we get to the end of the book. Today’s chapters . And they highlight these two characteristics of God. His immanence and his transcendence.

And they package it in WONDERFUL GOOD NEWS. Fantastic promises by God that one day, he will no longer be DISTANT, but will dwell among his people COMPLETELY. No ifs, no buts. No intermediaries. No barriers. The distance between the transcendent and the earthly will be gone.

And the wonderful picture is painted/ of GOD’S PRESENCE in GOD’S LAND.

Let’s look at it together. The context is another vision for Ezekiel. At the start of Ch 40, the hand of the LORD is on Ezekiel. And in v2, he’s taken to the land of Israel, and set on a very high mountain. And from the mountain he sees some buildings that looked like a city.

Well, like any good city tour. It’s good to have a guide. And that’s what Ezekiel’s got. A fully-equipped heavenly guide. Look at v3.

(Ezek 40:3-4 NIV)  He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. {4} The man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the house of Israel everything you see.”

But, just like a school excursion, Ezekiel has to TAKE NOTES. Because the whole point of the vision is TO COMMUNICATE SOMETHING to the PEOPLE.

And so Ezekiel, pencil sharpened, begins the tour.

It’s a tour of a temple (v5). And it begins at the outside wall. It’s 3½ m thick, and 3½ m high. An imposing wall. And in v6, he climbs some steps, goes through the gate, past the guards chambers. And into the outer court (v17)

Up and in.

And once inside, he sees an INNER court. With MORE steps and MORE gates. And, in v28, he goes through one of THESE gates. Into the inner court.

Up and in.

And in here, he sees an altar, and rooms for preparing sacrifices. Tables, and utensils, and hooks.

But above everything else, Ezekiel sees the temple (v48). Right in the middle of the inner court. And, once more, it’s reached by climbing STEPS, and through a DOOR.

Up and in.

But once Ezekiel gets through this door, he realises he’s only in the foyer. The entrance room.

But at the end of the foyer/ is another set of doors. HE goes through (41 v1) And once he goes through this/ he’s in the outer sanctuary of the temple.

He’s gone through four different gates or doors. But he’s still not at the centre. And in front of him, Ezekiel can see one more set of doors. He knows what’s through there. After all, he IS a priest. He never actually got to BE there in the ACTUAL temple in Jerusalem, but he knows what lies through THOSE doors.

It’s the Most Holy Place. Where GOD HIMSELF is.

And whether it’s because he hangs back, or not, we don’t know. But in 41 v3, we see that only HIS GUIDE goes in. Ezekiel stays outside.

Perhaps Ezekiel felt let-down. He expects to see God. But all he sees is the guide MEASURING again. And at the end of v4, he says, “This is the Most Holy Place.”

And for the rest of Ch 41 and 42, Ezekiel furiously writes notes of all that he sees. More details of the temple, and the various side rooms.

And he sums it all up at the end of Ch 42. v20. He’s gone all the way to the centre. And back out again. He finishes measuring the OUTSIDE WALLS.

(Ezek 42:20 NIV)  So he measured the area on all four sides. It had a wall around it, five hundred cubits long and five hundred cubits wide, TO SEPARATE THE HOLY FROM THE COMMON.

A perfect square. Layers within layers. Rising upward as you go inward. All designed for one purpose. To separate the holy from the common.

God in the middle, and high up. People on the outside and below. Separated by a vast number of barriers and gates and guards and doors and steps. And altars and sacrifices.

The perfect square representing the perfect system. All designed to SEPARATE God from Man. To illustrate God’s TRANSCENDENCE. His OTHER-ness.

He CAN be approached. There is SOME immanence. But it’s not EASY. And it’s COSTLY. And it takes TIME. And it happens according to God’s plan. After all, it’s HIS temple.

But it must have all seemed rather EMPTY. Rather POINTLESS. Because THE ONE THE WHOLE THING was DESIGNED FOR/ wasn’t even there. It’s God’s temple. And he’s not even THERE. He’s meant to be at the centre. Approachable. But he’s gone.

In fact, you might remember he’d been gone since Ch 11. he’d been so repulsed by the sin of the people in the Jerusalem temple that Ezekiel sees a vision of God’s glory – his presence – leaving the temple, and moving to the mountains to the EAST of Jerusalem.

And that’s where he’s stayed. Until now. Look at the start of Ch 43. Because God’s about to return.

(Ezek 43:1-4 NIV)  Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, {2} and 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. {3} 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. {4} The glory of the LORD entered the temple through the gate facing east.

And so he can get a better view of what’s going on, the Spirit lifts him up and takes him to the inner court where he hears God speaking. V7.

(Ezek 43:7 NIV)  He said: “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’s home. In the midst of his people. Immanent.

But that doesn’t mean he’s no longer TRANSCENDENT. He’s still holy. And to be approached with caution. That was the mistake the people made the FIRST TIME. Too hastily approaching God. Too lightly taking his commands. And so God destroyed them.

And then God tells us the MORAL to the whole vision. His REASON behind it all. The message of the temple.

Some people think God gave the vision so the temple could be BUILT. But that’s not what he says at all. Look at 43 v10.

(Ezek 43:10-11 NIV)  “Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, THAT THEY MAY BE ASHAMED OF THEIR SINS. Let them consider the plan, {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.

The design of the temple communicated a message. A message to a people who had taken God’s holiness LIGHTLY. Who had disobeyed his demands. And done their own thing.

They were to be ASHAMED of their sins. Because God wasn’t to be approached LIGHTLY. There was a great distance between mankind and God. It wasn’t impossible to bridge, But it could only be done according to God’s PERFECT PLAN.

And when that happened, God promised to DWELL with his people forever. IMMANENT. V9

(Ezek 43:9 NIV)  Now let them put away from me their prostitution and the lifeless idols of their kings, and I will live among them forever.

That was the message of the temple. And the rest of 43 and 44 talk about how the people could DO that. The sort of behaviour FIT for a king. Especially a king who DWELT AMONG YOU.

2. God’s LAND

But the vision was MORE than a temple. God’s PRESENCE. It was about God’s LAND as well.

Because the TEMPLE was where God lived. But the land was where the PEOPLE lived. And God’s got a message concerning THAT AS WELL.

God’s land is the subject of Chapters 45 to 48. God divides it up among the 12 tribes. Just like he did when Israel FIRST came into the Promised Land. But this time, there’s no FIGHTING. It’s just given.

And it’s SECURE. No-one will their inheritance away. No greedy princes will dispossess the people.

And there’s no INJUSTICE. Everyone gets an equal share. Even the SMALLEST tribes.

Even the GENTILES get in on the act. That was something that never happened the FIRST time. Look at the end of Ch 47. v22.

(Ezek 47:22-23 NIV)  You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves AND 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. {23} In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD.

What a wonderful picture of PARADISE! But that’s not the best part! Not only does God PROVIDE it all. But he MAINTAINS it all too.

Go to the start of Ch 47. Ezekiel’s taken back to the entrance to the temple. And he notices some water seeping out from the under the door. It flows down the steps and out the east gate.

And as Ezekiel follows his guide, they walk along the stream. Away from the temple. And after half a km the water’s up to his ankles. Another half-km, and it’s up to his knees. Another half-km, it’s up to his waist.

But by v5, the water is SO deep, they couldn’t cross it. One river, flowing from the temple, getting larger and larger the further downstream you went. With no tributaries! It’s miraculous.

It’s flowing from God’s temple. Representing God’s provision of his land. For his people.

And look at what the river DOES. Its effect on the land. V7.

(Ezek 47:8-12 NIV)  He said to me, “This 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. {9} 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. {10} Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for ing nets. The fish will be of many kinds–like the fish of the Great Sea. {11} But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. {12} 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’s a miracle. Fresh water that makes salt water FRESH. Impossible. Except in God’s Land.

And PLENTY OF FOOD. Large numbers of fish. Fruit trees 12 months a year. And the trees aren’t just good for FOOD, but for HEALING TOO.

It’s a wonderful picture of PARADISE. The Garden of Eden all over again. The Kingdom of God. God’s people in God’s land with God living among them. The transcendent God dwelling with his people.

There’s plenty of parallels with Revelation 21 and 22. A river which flows. But from the THRONE rather than the temple. Because once Jesus came, the Lamb who was slain, there was no need for a temple. In Revelation’s new heaven and new earth, there will be no temple. All those barriers and walls and guards and gates and doors and steps have been removed.

And the trees by the river bring healing TO THE NATIONS. That’s US. Because God’s plan was that the gospel would go to ALL NATIONS. So that EVERY tongue could confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. WE can have intimate access to God.

3. God’s Son

You see, it’s not until we get to the New Testament that the puzzle’s solved. That the missing pieces fall into place. Only in Jesus do the PROMISES become REALITY.

God’s PRESENCE and God’s LAND/ only come through GOD’S SON.

The problem of God’s holiness and separation from us are solved/ through his on our behalf. Heb 10: 19 puts it like this.

(Heb 10:19-22 NIV)  Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the of Jesus, {20} by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, {21} and since we have a great priest over the house of God, {22} let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,

Everything Ezekiel’s temple was pointing to/ is found in Christ.

All Ezekiel did was highlight the PROBLEM. But Christ was the SOLUTION.

Ezekiel’s vision is God’s promise TO US. It points us to the new heaven and new earth that will one day be a REALITY for God’s people.

When Christ returns, the heavenly Jerusalem will descend. God will dwell with his people. And ETERNAL PARADISE will begin.

And I see no reason to doubt that it’ll be just like the visions of Revelation and Ezekiel describe it. With fishing and fruit trees. And work. And a city of gold.

But our job NOW/ is not to just sit back, put our feet up/ and think of PARADISE.

Many of our friends, at the moment, are headed for somewhere ELSE. For eternal separation from God.

We have such a wonderful future in store. We are the watchman whose seen the enemy coming. But we haven’t sounded the warning.

We must PERSEVERE. Continue to live faithfully and obediently NOW. Keeping our priorities clear. Because NOTHING is more important than eternity.

Hebrews 10 continues. V23.

(Heb 10:23-25 NIV)  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. {24} And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. {25} Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The Day’s approaching. Great news for us. But bad news for OTHERS.

So let’s SPUR each other on.

Let’s not give up meeting together.

Let’s continue sounding the warning, like Ezekiel.

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