Ezekiel 1: 1-3
In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the River Kebar, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
On the fifth of the month – it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin – the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the River Kebar in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was on him.
Ezekiel 2: 1-5
He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’ As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.
He said: ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.” And whether they listen or fail to listen – for they are a rebellious people – they will know that a prophet has been among them.
Today I want to give a little background to the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. It is one of those books that we probably haven't read too often because it is full of imagery and visions which aren't easily interpreted or readily applicable to our everyday lives.
Ezekiel was a priest turned prophet who received his prophetic revelation over a 22 year period during the 6th century BC. God had delivered his people from slavery in Egypt and had blessed them with abundance, prosperity and a spacious land to live in. How did they repay Him? They continually turned away from Him and willfully disobeyed His Law, breaking the covenant they had made with Him. They were too enamored with the nations around them and even worshipped their false gods and idols. This was spiritual adultery - unfaithfulness to Yahweh, the only true God. The prophet Jeremiah had repeatedly warned them of dire consequences if they didn't repent and return to God. However, they were bent on a course of self-will and destruction and ignored his pleas.
As always, the nature of sin and disobedience against God is this: it takes us to places that we never wanted to go, it keeps us longer than we wanted to stay and it costs us more than we ever wanted to pay. Some of us know that too well from our personal experience. We looked for freedom apart from God, but instead of liberty what we found was oppression and slavery. We became imprisoned by the very things we thought would bring freedom and happiness. Compromise leads to captivity.
That’s what happened Israel. As they pursued foreign gods and freedom from Yahweh's rule, He eventually gave them what they wanted. He removed His hand of protection and blessing from them and they subsequently ended up getting invaded by the pagan nations that they so wanted to be like. First of all the Assyrians and then, in Ezekiel's era, the Babylonians. Babylon began their domination by carrying off ten thousand of Israel's finest residents. Daniel was among these first exiles. Ten years later the Babylonians returned to Jerusalem where they destroyed the temple and devastated the city, carrying off most of the remaining inhabitants. So Israel went from exaltation to exile, from glory to grim, deliverance to destruction.
Many years later the Apostle Paul would write to a church community in Galatia:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5: 1)
When God sets us free, let’s stay free and not return to our old ways of either licentious sin or legalistic religion. Enjoy living in the glorious liberty Jesus has accomplished for us.
As a prophet, Ezekiel received revelation from God in the form of words, pictures, visions, symbols. It was his job to communicate God’s heart through messages to His people. The very fact that God was still speaking to them showed that, while the people might have forgotten about God, He hadn’t forgotten about them. They may have turned away from Him, but He was still pursuing them. They might be in a foreign land and think that God and His presence was limited to their temple in Jerusalem. But God shows up wherever His people are, whatever state they are in, and He calls out to them, reminding them of who they really are and He implores them to return to Him.
In the first half of the book, most of Ezekiel's prophetic pronouncements are about God’s judgment of His people, basically telling them how they got themselves into the state they are in. There’s a place for that. Some of us need to know that God didn’t get us into the mess, pain and heartache we sometimes face. In fact, it wasn’t even the devil. We did the job for him. It was our own sin, our own stupidity, it was ignoring His Word and the warnings we received.
However, it’s so good to know that even in the midst of our mess, God is merciful. Our sin is never too gross for His grace. And so, in the latter part of this book, God begins to speak hope, comfort, promise and reassurance of restoration to His people. That's what we find in Ezekiel 37 and his vision of the valley of dry bones.
Swiss theologian Emil Brunner wrote, “What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of life.” No matter what place you find yourself in today, however dark your situation, difficult your circumstances, painful your problems, you need to know - there is still hope. Things can change. Our God is "the God of hope" (Rom 15: 13) and He promises "...those who hope in me will not be disappointed." (Is 49: 23)