Thursday, June 21, 2007

Do You Really Know That God Is The LORD?

The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men." So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.
Ezekiel 24:15-18
Without any explanation, without any discussion, without any apologies, the LORD takes away from His servant Ezekiel the wife of his youth, the "delight of [his] eyes" (Ezekiel 24:16) in a flash, in the blink of an eye. But not only this. He, furthermore, tells Ezekiel that he is forbidden from mourning or crying (v.16). And what do the Scriptures tell us is the response of the prophet? "So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded" (v.18).

Say what? No questioning the motives of the Almighty? No seeking answers to imply that an explanation is necessary? No shaking his fist in the face of the Creator so as to put His goodness on trial? I am astounded by such a response! I know very little of relating to God in this way and realize that such a response says alot more than I think about the way I see and relate to the Lord of hosts. I expect God to tell me His reasons for doing what He does. I expect God to answer all of my questions (in a way that I will deem as satisfactory even though I may not admit it). I am inclined to define for myself what it means for God to be good. Where, I ask, do such expectations and inclinations come from? Is this the way the Bible teaches that I am to interact with the only wise God? According to this passage, Ezekiel doesn't interact with God in this way. Why not? What I want to know is: Why does Ezekiel respond to God's actions the way that he does? How is it possible for him to do so? In answering this question, my aim is to know if this indeed is the way I am to interact with the Almighty and how it is that I do so.

After taking away the life of Ezekiel's wife, the LORD then proceeds to instruct the prophet to tell the house of Israel that, just like He acted toward Ezekiel, He will "profane [His] sanctuary, the pride of [their] power, the delight of [their] eyes, and the yearning of [their] soul, and [their] sons and [their] daughters whom [they] left behind shall fall by the sword" (v.21). In other words, He is going to intentionally afflict and grieve the house of Israel just as He did to Ezekiel in taking away his wife, the "delight of [his] eyes" (v.16). Notice the repetition of the same phrase "delight of your eyes" in the Lord addressing Ezekiel alone (v.16) and the house of Israel (v.21). And just as Ezekiel was forbidden to weep or mourn, so is the house of Israel (v.23). In this way, Ezekiel, in the experience of losing his wife, is to be a sign for Israel in what they are about to experience. And the end goal for the house of Israel in all this is that they will know that the one who called them into covenant is the Lord GOD (v.24).

This is driven home as we see it repeated by the LORD to Ezekiel in v.27: "So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the LORD." The parallels in v.24 and v.27 are striking:
Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign; according to all that he has done you shall do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord God.
Ezekiel 24:24

So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the LORD.
Ezekiel 24:27
Twice the LORD moves from what Ezekiel will experience to what the house of Israel will come to know. The house of Israel doesn't know something that they must know. But Ezekiel isn't included with them. Look again at v.27: "So you (Ezekiel) will be a sign to them (house of Israel), and they (house of Israel) will know that I am the LORD" (emphasis mine). The LORD addresses Ezekiel and Israel as two distinct entities because, quite simply, Ezekiel knows that He is the LORD and the house of Israel doesn't, say what they will.

Do you see that? The implications are staggering! God is, in effect, saying that Ezekiel demonstrates by his actions the knowledge of what it means that He is God, the One who is sovereign in commanding and doing what He will. Our lives look a certain way when we really know this! And they look completely different if we don't, regardless of what we may say.

The psalmist cries out: "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth" (Psalm 8:1)! Before we can embrace God as our master who will use His infinite power on our behalf, we must acknowledge that He is Yahweh, the great "I AM", the One who eternally is and exists in perfect glory and majesty without ever figuring created beings into the picture. He is the absolute One! He is the infinitely wise and powerful One whose ways are higher than our ways and whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9) so that we shouldn't even dare approach the throne of the Almighty without His first summoning us to His presence. Perhaps our quickness to want to enter into arguing with the One who sits on high shows that we don't know that He is the LORD.

What does it mean that God is the LORD, the great "I AM"? Moses receives that revelation in the desert:
I AM, I AM, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty...
Exodus 34:6,7
The house of Israel, in Ezekiel's day, was filled with iniquity and transgression and sin and they needed to know particularly that what it means for God to be the LORD is that He will not clear them. Were He to clear them with the knowledge of their guilt, He would cease to be the LORD. And this will never be.

Ezekiel, on the other hand, knew that the first thing it means for God to be the LORD is that He is merciful and gracious. Every blessing that he had in his life, including the delight of his eyes (his wife), was owing to free and unmerited mercy and grace so there was no way he could lay any claim to it. There's no doubt in my mind that he joined the chorus that Job sang with the words: "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). In other words: "All that I have, the sovereign LORD has given to me though I don't deserve it. So how could I begrudge Him for taking what rightfully belongs to Him?"

But, for me, the best part of Ezekiel knowing that God is the LORD has to be that He is the God who abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness. For those who trust Him and love His sovereign throne and His infinite majesty, He will not stop loving them or demonstrating His faithfulness towards them because that is what it means for Him to be the LORD! By His own definition! Were He to cease to abound in faithfulness and dispensation of love towards those who exalt His holy name, He would cease to be the LORD! And this will never be. This is where the hope of Ezekiel must lie. Indeed, this is where the hope of all God's people must lie. As we trust Him and walk in obedience to His commands, He never ceases to pour out steadfast love and faithfulness out on us no matter how much affliction or grief we might suffer. What we must strive to learn is that, in ways that usually won't be revealed on this side of eternity, the affliction and grief is no less a part of the steadfast love and faithfulness poured out on us than the pleasures we welcome. God knows what is good better than any and He is "preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). God never stopped being good to Ezekiel in taking his wife away. And He never stops being good to us if we truly know that He is the LORD. Oh "let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). Indeed He must be, for this is precisely what it means for Him to be the LORD!
... if we are faithless, he remains faithful -- for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:13
Father in Heaven, help us to know what it means for You to be the LORD! We know so little. Indeed, many of us have inherited a vision of You that isn't from the Bible. In a society that exalts self, we inevitably breathe air that causes us to define You as only in relation to us. But, oh how mistaken we are. For You are the God who existed in all Your perfection before You ever set forth creation. Infinite in wisdom, infinite in power, infinite in love, infinite in happiness, infinite in faithfulness, infinite in goodness. You were all these things before we ever came into being and You didn't need us to exist in order for these attributes of Yours to make sense. So grant that we would be a people who know that divine goodness, divine faithfulness, and divine love are defined apart from us. And make us a people who have the eyes to see and know and experience these precious characteristics of Yours at all times because they are most certainly always shining. By Your grace, may You please lift us from such lowly thoughts of You to higher altitudes where we will breathe the pure, biblical air of Your resplendent majesty for all of our days! Do this for Your sake I pray. In Jesus' name, Amen!

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