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Ezekiel 4-7 – A study guide

Preparation:

  1. Print chapters 4, chapter 5 and chapter 6 out from BibleGateway.com so that everyone will get a copy of ONE CHAPTER.
  2. Print off the table of the chapter 7 structure – one for each person.

Introduction question (choose one):

  1. If you knew you only had 24 hours to live, what would you do?
  2. If you were to go to meet God right now, what do you expect (in your imagination) would happen?
  3. Describe a time when you have just run out of time to do something.

Reading the text for the first time

  1. Read through the context from the online blog or ask the group to tell you what the context is so far.
  2. Break the room into three groups and give everybody a sheet of paper with ONE CHAPTER of Ezekiel 4-6 printed on it. Ask each group to read their chapter and make notes on the page. Tell them that they will have a chance to include what they’ve read in the discussion of chapter 7 later on.
  3. Call the group back together and read the summary of chapters 4-6 on the online blog.
Read Ezekiel 7 as a whole group.

Observation Questions

  1. What phrases repeat throughout the chapter?
  2. One of the phrases is “Then you will know that I am the LORD” or very similar. These appear to make up a final statement to each section of the poem. Can you see a cycle in the message?
  3. There are three cycles of the same message. Use the table worksheet to see how the text repeats the same message three times with greater detail each time.
  4. There is a lot of doom and woe in this passage. Are there any hints, even vaguely, of hope? (see verse 8 and ask if the NT has a new revelation for us).
  5. Refer to the Blog if questions arise which the group is unable to work out by themselves.

Message

  1. How would you paraphrase the message of this chapter in one or two sentences?
  2. What would be the message to our day and age?

Application

  1. What does this chapter teach us about God?
  2. Idolatry is one side of the key to the conduct being judged here. What does idolatry look like in our day and our culture?
  3. Look up Colossians 3:1-12 esp v 5 and see what warnings the New Testament has for those who put their trust in Christ. Which idols and sins do you need to repent of and ask God for help in?
  4. Silver and Gold make the other side of the key to the people’s conduct. This could not save the people from judgement day and would be regarded by them as worthless when the end comes. What is it that we must put our hope and trust in? How are you going with that?

Pray

Ezekiel 4-7 – “I myself am against you,” says the Sovereign LORD (5:8)

The range of text we will be covering this week is chapters 4-7 of Ezekiel instead of the scheduled 4-10. There has been a change of plans to move MEGACHURCH to later in the year and so the preaching schedule has been modified. Next week we will cover chapters 8-10 and I hope to publish an updated schedule for the rest of the year ASAP.

How do we take four chapters and focus on something specific? If we attempt that much in a Growth Group then we’ll run out of time and when that happens, the leader tends to do all the talking. We’re going to focus on chapter 7 which picks up the themes from the other three chapters. Here’s a couple of options to handle this week:

  • Ask your group to pre-read the chapters before coming.
  • Listen to the bible read aloud for you on a device (e.g. You Version). This will take about fifteen minutes to do as a group.
  • Divide your group into sections and have them read different chapters on their own. Then, when you study chapter 7, they might be able to add some input from the chapter that they read.
  • Read aloud the overview below before reading chapter 7 together.

Once the context is covered, read through chapter 7 and conduct a study as normal. Here is a link to an outline for your study. Use that study outline along with the notes below to help.

Context

The chosen people of Israel have been rebelling against God for centuries. Even though God saved them from slavery and nurtured them into a mighty nation. Even though God gave them a great city and the Temple as the place designated by God for true worship. Even though God had sent prophet after prophet to warn the people to repent. Israel and Judah have rebelled and resisted God’s grace and promises. Now, while in a foreign land, Ezekiel is instructed on what to say and do to communicate to the people of Israel: the end is here! Ezekiel was told in chapter 3 that if he fails to warn the people, then their blood is on his hands.

Overview of chapters 4-6…

The LORD instructs Ezekiel to perform 4 things with his body. 1) He is to use clay to illustrate Jerusalem being surrounded and under siege, 2) he is to lay down on his left side for 390 days to represent the 390 years of rebellion and then on his right side for 40 days to represent the 40 years of judgement, 3) while lying down, he is to eat an incredibly small amount of food which would have tasted awful. He is told to cook the food on human dung, but protests and is allowed to cook it on cow dung! Yay! 4) He is told to take a sword and shave his beard (ouch) and with a third, burn it, another third, strike it with the sword and with the final third, scatter it into the wind. This is to communicate that the people of Israel will be subject to famine as they are caged in the city under seige, then they will be struck down by the sword of the enemy and the final third who happen to escape will be scattered but then hunted down and killed also.

They are described as worse than the nations and are being judged because they have defiled God’s sanctuary. God is against them and what is predicted to happen is from the LORD – and they will know it!

In chapter 6, the focus is on the mountains where the third who are scattered may run for protection. But they won’t find it there. The mountains were where Israel worshipped other gods and this is where the final survivers will be slain. The whole land will be deserted and it will be clear that the LORD did this. It is restated that there will be 1) famine, 2) sword and 3) scattering.

Observations on chapter 7

For the first time in Ezekiel, we see something that looks like poetry. Our English bibles tell us that this is Hebrew poetry when they lay out the text indented like poetry. You know what they say, poetry is lost in translation…or something like that!

There is a repeated cycle in the chapter which the below table highlights. Verses 12-27 take up the largest section which fleshes out the brief summary of verses 3-4.

The End has come! 1-3 5-7 10-12
I will judge you without pity for your conduct and practices 3-4 8-9 12-27
Then you will know that I am the LORD 4 9 27

 

The prophecy is to be directed “To the land of Israel” (1, 7, 23, 27). This is because the LORD seeks to make the land deserted waste land (see 6:14). The judgement that is coming and is at the door will leave the land of Israel looking like a holocaust – post apocalyptic! The land was one of the great promises to Israel and a clear sign of their blessing. Removal from the land is a clear message of curse and wrath.

“The end has come!” (7:2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12) This is the first of the three part message of this chapter (see table above). Doom is at the door! The urgency of this message can’t be overlooked. It is not, “the end is coming” but, “the end has come!” Those who are left living in Jerusalem are about to die. The application is more than a warning about judgement but on the fact that at some point, it will be too late. When Christ returns, or when we reach the end of our life, that is the time of judgement.

“your conduct…your detestable practices” (3, 4, 8, 9, 13, 20, 27) The cause of the end is the conduct of the people. There are clues in the verses listed here as to what their conduct was. Verse 20 describes pride in what they had which was used to create idols for false gods. See 6:11-13 for a clear image of the detestable practices and how God will react to this. Also 5:8-12 contains another summary of what is at stake here.

“[without] pity, I will not spare you.” (4, 9) See also 5:8 and 11. This is a striking phrase because it stands in defiance of a view of an all-loving God. All-loving, however, does not mean that nothing can make the LORD angry and wrathful. There is a time for patience and a time to act. When final judgement comes, the decision will be sure and decisive. This is the God whom we serve. This is only one reason why I choose to serve him and not make him my enemy – but it’s a good reason.

“Then they will know that I am the LORD” (6:7, 10, 13, 14, 7:4, 9, 27) This phrase in verses 4, 9 and 27 give off the first clue that there is a three part cycle here. When combined with the repeated theme of the end, we begin to see the repetitious structure of the chapter. You see that chapter 6 repeats this phrase also. It reminds us that one day every knee will bow and tongue confess who is LORD. Both the saint and the rebel will see clearly in the end. The difference will be a question of when you did something about it. Israel should have already known this instead of worshipping any other gods.

“the mountains” (7, 16) The significance of the mountains is that this is where the vile idolatry took place. This is where offerings were made to other gods for prosperity and food and this is exactly where the slain will lay dripping in blood. See 6:1-7.

“pour out my wrath on you and spend my anger against you” (3, 8, 12, 14, 19, 24) This is a terribly frightful phrase – to experience all of God’s wrath and anger being poured out and completely spent. We witnessed Ezekiel see only a vision of the likeness of the glory of the LORD and that sent him crashing to the floor. This brings out the attention that God will give to judgement. He will not flick his enemies away like used toothpicks. He will give his attention to the punishment and make sure it is complete. Read Nahum 1:6. After meditating on the fear of this – the danger of God’s wrath, consider the One who was prepared to stand in the way of God’s full wrath and fury for us. Jesus Christ had the wrath of God poured out on him so that we may escape God’s wrath for our own idolatry and shame (Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:24; Romans 5:9; 1 Thess 5:9; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 1:4; 1 John 4:10). See also Ezekiel 5:13 and see that at some point, God’s wrath can be spent! This gives us confidence in trusting Jesus all the more because God’s wrath has been satisfied.

“Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them.” (11, 19-21) The things we treat as great value now will do nothing for us on the day of judgement. The people of Israel were not simply worshiping false idols but were relying on wealth. They not only trusted their riches, they even used them to make worthless idols! How the two sins are closely and even inseparably woven! See Colossions 3:5.

“Outside is the sword; inside are plague and famine.” (7:15) There is no escape for Israel. They are damned if they flee and they are damned if they remain inside the city. See 5:12; 6:12.

“desecrate the place I treasure….sanctuaries will be desecrated.” (5:11; 7:22, 24) The people had performed evil acts in the temple – the place God treasures – and this too will be desecrated by God. Since they defile it, God will make sure it is made unclean. This theme of the defiled temple will return in the book of Ezekiel.

Meaning

God’s people have deserted God through idolatry and desecrating the temple with false worship. While other prophets have cried out “judgement is coming if you don’t repent!” This prophet will declare, “the end is here because you have refused to repent!” There comes a point when God’s patience is ended and the final judgement takes place.

Application

  • Judgement day is coming.  Silver and gold will get us nowhere. If our trust is in anything other than Jesus, we will receive the full brunt of God’s wrath and anger. What is your hope and trust in? How can you tell if your trust is in Jesus and not in anything else?
  • God’s wrath has been spent! Jesus Christ was willing to stand in the way of our judgement. It is easy to say that Jesus died in my place but there is a reason why Jesus was in torment in the garden of Gethsemane – he knew what he was about to face. Thank Jesus for his sacrifice for you. We can never repay him for what he has done but we can certainly fight idolatry by acknowledging what he has done.
  • Idolatry – what does this look like for us? Israel turned to false images for fairly familiar reasons – for the hope to prosper, for good fortune, good health and the like. We may not turn to idols (although it must be noted that many cultures in Australia still do turn to idols for prosperity and health etc) but where is our trust directed? What plans, routines, purchases, and even superstitions can you identify in your life that is replacing our Sovereign LORD?
  • From chapters 4 and 5, Ezekiel was told to perform some visible signs. These were not just like a visual aid such as a Powerpoint presentation – they were emotional demonstrations to evoke emotion in others – they were affective signs. We too can do the same thing – not with weird and crazy performances but by demonstrating to people with our lives that we are for God. Let others see our lives and be rebuked.
  • God’s ultimate visible sign is Jesus. He is not just a description of God or a man who pointed us to God – he was God in the flesh who demonstrated the depths of our sin by being murdered on a cross. The cross itself is an affective sign. How clearer can we be about our race’s attitude toward God than to point to the cross and say, “see, we even want God dead!” How low can we go?

Prayer for the week

Lord of all, please help us to turn away from idols and give you our whole heart, mind and soul to trust and obey. Thank you for Jesus Christ and the sacrifice he made on our behalf. Thank you Jesus for your visible love for us. Help us to show the world with out lives that we belong to you and that this is the only safe way to live. Amen.

Ezekiel 1 – The Likeness of the Glory of the Lord

Welcome to Ezekiel. It’s a book that doesn’t get a lot of screen time in our contemporary church. A few reasons for this are (a) there are many confusing things in the book that require time to consider, (b) the first 24 and even 33 chapters contain the message of doom and gloom – that’s a lot of reading before the grace of God is spoken clearly, (c) it is just a long book!

When time is given to Ezekiel it is often chapter 36 or 37 that is quoted or referenced or sung about. But, all scripture is God breathed and useful. The early church only had the Old Testament and the stories of Jesus to learn from. Ezekiel was part of their learning. The study on the Temple and true restoration are strong in this book.

To make sense of the book, we really need to understand the context – the history that this is placed in. We cannot make sense of the book without it!

Context

We start at the beginning. God created everything. I mean everything! He is God and there is nothing or no-one greater than him. This was not enough for humanity. Our race rebelled against God and gave ear to the idea that God is not really for us. He lies. He tricks us. He is too controlling. He doesn’t care about us like he says. So, the God who created all things by His Spirit and by His Word dealt with rebellion by ejecting Adam and Eve from the beautiful garden of Eden. They were exiled from the garden, from access to the tree of life and from God’s presence.

But that was not the end of the story for God. In about 2200BC (I may need to double check that but, ball-park), God made promises to Abram (renamed to Abraham). He gave his word to Abraham that his offspring would form a great nation, that they would live and enjoy a great land where God himself dwelt (made clearer through Moses) , and that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham’s offspring. God’s people, in God’s place, receiving God’s blessing and rule (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:5-7; 17:1-8).

In Joshua’s time, the first two promises were somewhat fulfilled (Joshua 21:43-45). David was eventually established as a king of Israel after God’s heart and under his son, Solomon, the Temple of the Lord was built. The Temple was, as the tabernacle had been, the place known as the dwelling place of God. Israel were God’s people, living in God’s place, with the rule and blessing of God with them. Wow!

But, like Adam and Eve, Israel took their eyes off their great Sovereign King and chased after the things of this world. They preferred to be like the other nations than to be distinct and trusting in God alone. For generations, king after king showed how rebellious Israel could be. The obvious sin was their worship of foreign gods.

In 586BC, 1,600 years after Abraham and about 500 years after David, God sent Israel into exile for their rebellion. This meant that they were physically removed from the land, crippled as a nation and under the rule of a foreign king (Nebuchadneser). God gave them blessings and he, like he promised Moses (Deuteronomy 28-30), gave them curses.

This is the scene of Ezekiel. Chapter 1 verse 1, our prophet said”…while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” Ezekiel was not in Israel but in Babylon, by the Kebar River, with the other exiles. While the exile meant judgement for Israel, it was not the end of the story because God has more to say to Israel. He’ll be talking to Ezekiel and asking him to communicate with the exiles. Do you hear the story of Adam and Eve all over again?!? What will God do this time? If God chooses to bless Israel, won’t they just make the same mistakes again? What on earth can God do to take away the sin and rebellion from Israel and his world? Anyone?

Observations

Try and draw what Ezekiel saw in his vision! It’s hard! Does it even make sense? The key to unlocking this type of scripture (actually any of the scriptures) is not to get bogged down with what is hard to understand but to highlight what is clear. Taking note of what is easy to understand can lead to clarity on what is hard.

What is easy to understand?

1) Ezekiel was physically by a river in the year 593BC – ie, 5 years after King Jehoiachin went into exile.

2) While in the company of, or living amongst the exiles, Ezekiel saw visions of God. 1:1 and 1:28 bookend the chapter with this clear message – Ezekiel saw the likeness of the glory of the LORD. So, the content of this chapter is about Ezekiel seeing something that showed or displays the glory of God. They were visions and a likeness.

3) Verse 1 and then verse 4 onward in this chapter are the words of Ezekiel. Verses 2-3 appear to be a comment from a later editor to clarify the time and person of Ezekiel. This does not make verses 2-3 less the word of God. This is how the bible is constructed – not God’s words dictated to us but the acts of God testified to us.

4) Ezekiel saw a lot of lights and movement and wheels and animal heads and wings and it was coming from the north!

What is harder to understand?

1)  “I saw a windstorm coming out of the north” (v4). The description continues with a lot of movement and flashing and hot metal and so on. This is not a quiet breeze but an unmissable and turbulent event travelling (coming) from the north. This is the direction of judgement (Jeremiah 1:14). This is where Israel’s enemies came to conquer them. This time, however, it is not a human army coming, it is God.

2) “What looked like four living creatures” (v5). We may have a mental image of what cherubim look like (fat babies with small wings, curly blonde hair and a bow) but this is what we are meant to understand Ezekiel seeing here. They are described to have wings (vv6-9) and carrying a vessel (v22). This may remind you of the ark of the covenant which seated two cherubim on top – wings stretched across it to cover or guard the box/vessel/vault. The vision that Ezekiel is seeing is on the move (see previous point) and is describing something holy.

3) “Their faces looked like this…” (v10). The face like a human, a lion, an ox and an eagle. This is the sort of detail that we can get lost up in. But keep this in mind, if the bible doesn’t give us the answer, then it may very well just be an impression that we are to be satisfied with. The point? They were living creatures (v5 and 13). The human is the height of God’s creation. The lion is the head of the wild animals. The ox is the head of the domestic animal. The eagle is the head of the winged animals. That’s one thought. What the passage says at least twice is that these were living creatures.

4) “Wherever the Spirit would go, they would go.” (v12 and 20). The passage mentions a couple of times that the creatures didn’t turn as they moved (v9, 12, 17) and that the creatures and the wheels would go wherever the Spirit went. The message is that this thing is being driven by the Spirit of God. It’s not the wheels or the creatures or the vault or the throne moving mechanically but being transported by the Spirit of the living God. We will see later in the book of Ezekiel that the prophet himself will be picked up and transported by the Spirit. God is on the move. God is working. God is active.

5) “The creatures sped back and forth.” (v14) The movement that is in the passage is fast. Lights flashing and creatures speeding back and forth. There are different directions that God is travelling in. It is not just from the north and landing in Babylon. God is travelling this way and that. What is he looking for? What is he seeing? Why is he going back and forth? It perhaps underscores one message of Ezekiel and that is that God is not bound by the Temple but is free to roam where he pleases. He’s God after all!

6) “This was the appearance and structure of the wheels…” (v16). They were awesome looking – impressive in size. They were eight wheels all counted? Four on the ground in front of each creature (v15) and each wheel appeared to have a wheel intersecting it. You could count four wheels or eight – depending how you read Ezekiel’s description. The idea though, seems to be the ability to go in any direction. Also the image is of power like the chariots of war.

7) “A throne of lapis lazuli” (v26). Exodus 24:10 describes Moses and Aaron and 72 other elders of Israel seeing God who was standing on a pavement made of lapis lazuli. This is a deep-blue stone that looks really impressive. The Exodus passage describes it as “bright blue as the sky.”  (see also Job 28:16; Isaiah 54:11). The throne is described and the reference leads us to conclude that this is a throne for God. On the throne, however, is a “figure like that of a man.”

8) “Like the appearance of a rainbow.” (v28) It doesn’t say there was a rainbow there but the appearance of a rainbow. Visions like these give us pointers of what to think about as we read them. The pointer here is obvious: the rainbow of Noah. This was a covenant promise from God that he would not forget to save the world from universal flood again – not to repeat the kind of judgement that wipes away humanity forever. The rainbow is a reminder of God’s grace and mercy. So, is this coming of God to be judgement or grace? Could it be both? The rainbow gives us a glimpse toward the end of Ezekiel, from chapter 34 onwards.

9) “And I heard the voice of one speaking” (v28). This vision of chapter one is about God approaching Ezekiel to give him His words. It is like the vision of Isaiah in Isaiah 6. The literal visions are different and worth the time comparing if you have it, but they compare in that both prophets saw a vision of the glory of the LORD before the LORD commissioned the prophets to speak.

New Testament Perspective

Hearing of a throne with a figure of a man seated on it reminds us of Jesus. Stephen, in Acts 7, “looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ [Stephen] said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'” (Acts 7:55-56). Jesus is in the place of authority. We know that he is loving and kind, gentle and meek, but we cannot escape the reality that he is also God, creator and judge.

Meaning

God is going to speak to the people in exile. Although they have been cast out from the presence of the Temple, God will come to them. It is a vision of God coming to declare his Word to a rebellious people who were too stubborn and hard hearted to listen before.

Application

  • It is a reminder of the continued mercy of God to persevere with his people who are rebellious.
  • It is a vision of God’s holiness and glory and sovereignty. He is not little Jesus meek and mild and lying in a manger. He is a mighty warrior King, seated on his throne and awesome in power.
  • Ezekiel’s response to seeing this vision was to fall facedown (v28). How do we convey that in our life? Is this a category shift for us with regards to God and Christ? Holding only this view of God is unhealthy since we understand grace and love but excluding this reality of God is to deny who he is.
  • The Spirit is the mover in this vision. The Spirit of God is always active in the work of God. While our focus is on the one on the throne, rightly so, we give thanks for the work of the Spirit who elevates Christ and brings his glory to us.

Prayer of the week

Heavenly King, you are far beyond our imagination. You are our God, our King, our ruler and our judge. Have mercy on us, we pray. By the power of the Spirit and the work of your Son who is now seated on the throne, rescue us from sin. Save us from the captivity of sin and rebellion. Help us to listen to you when you speak and to respond immediately in trust. Amen.