In this chapter, God explains His justice to Ezekiel in powerful words. “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (See also 36:33-36 for another glimpse of the compassion in God’s judgement). The Creator of the Universe is distressed about the future of a nation that has repeatedly abandoned Him. I look at the compassion in His pleading and am humbled and in awe because I know He says the same to me.
Another clear theme in this chapter is that each person is judged according to his/her deeds (vs. 1-20). We are not judged by any measure that society uses- our social status, our background or our success. We are not judged by something that is hard for us to understand or out of our control. We are judged by our actions, by the outward expressions of our internal selves which have consequences (for better or worse) on those around us. This is the most fair measure for us to be judged by. We are judged by our Creator who is desperately urging us to make our choices wisely. Our judge is on our side. So much so that He gives us the option to have a perfectly clean slate through His mercy, grace and sacrifice of His Son. Why would we choose anything else?
While thinking about God’s judgement, one question always crosses my mind– Why were we given choice in the first place? It doesn’t take long to reason that love is not love without a choice. Recently I’ve realized this answer has even further implications. I believe that since God gave us choice from the beginning, it is a sacred right that we must offer and preserve for every human. One of the most frustrating things we can experience is trying to force someone to do something. If our Creator does not force us into anything, why then do we feel the need to force others?
As we see in the analogy of the watchman in chapter 33, the shepherds in chapter 34 and in the promises God gives to Israel in chapter 36, one individual’s or group’s actions has far reaching effects because we are all connected to each other. In chapter 33, the hearers of the watchman reserve the right to make their own choice and will be judged accordingly, as does the watchman himself. Chapter 34 reveals the importance of our choices by showing how the shepherds had an opportunity to build up the flock but instead chose to only look out for themselves to the detriment of others. Chapter 36 shows the opposite effect; God cleanses the people and “then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes” (vs. 23). Our choices matter because they affect other people. Our choices matter because they can either speak for truth (which is glorifying God and His grace) or contribute to further destruction and hurt. Nearly every story in the Bible shows how God is constantly reaching out to humans to encourage them to make the choice that is in their best interest. He is always near, we just have to turn and look.
“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.” (v.14)
I think those words sum up the story of the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, reaching a climax in the story of Jesus. How beautiful. Especially in light of the context of this story. These words were spoken to King David by a wise woman pretending to have a situation that mirrored what was happening with David’s son. Absalom had killed his brother for raping his sister and had been away from David for 3 years. The wise woman spoke these words to spur David to call for Absalom to come back. In light of David’s actions with Bathsheba and Uriah a few chapters back, these words must have been especially humbling to him. To us, thousands of years and miles away, these words are still an accurate picture of what God did through Jesus and what he continues to do in our present lives, thus creating the source for our humility, devotion and love towards him.
There are lots of reasons to question why a loving God would allow suffering. During my recent studies, I’ve frequently noticed the cycle of God’s judgement and how closely it is related to suffering (After I realized this trend, I found a prayer from several months ago asking to better understand God’s judgement. I don’t think it’s a coincidence). From my observations, God gives everyone an opportunity to choose him, but not wishing to violate free will, he also gives the opportunity to choose something else. In an effort to show how the something else is not what will really give the people fulfillment, he issues some kind of discipline, whether its delivering the people over to the natural consequences of their sin or an act of punishment such as defeat in war, plagues, etc. If the people repent, God restores them. If they don’t, he “hardens their heart”, which is difficult to understand. Right now, I think of it as if the people have rejected God so much that if God offered anything else to them, it would involve violating free will.
All of this to say that one reason I believe God allows suffering is to turn us back to him. But what about the suffering of someone who is already faithful? Is every time of pain some kind of punishment or call from God to repent? That idea has little to no capacity to produce comforting words for someone else during a time of suffering.
The first few verses of 2nd Corinthians helped show me another dimension of suffering. I don’t think it is necessarily an explanation for why there is suffering, but I do think it shows how God can still be a loving God despite what he allows to happen to his children. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (v. 3-5).
Beautiful. Not just the words, but the plan behind them. God is our ultimate comfort because he can relate to our suffering. He already experienced the worst kind of suffering– sacrificing your blameless Son for people who may or may not choose to accept the benefit of that sacrifice. Even if we don’t understand all the “whys”, we do know that God’s plan included being able to comfort us no matter what we experience. That is powerful, faithful, boundless love. Later in the passage, Paul provides a reason for his personal suffering “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v.9). The added emphasis, “who raises the dead” is a powerful reminder that our God can do anything and is absolutely trustworthy to rely on. To have a being much more powerful than we can understand be available and willing to comfort us during suffering, that is love. Not an imperfect, fearful love that protects us from suffering (because it is scared that we will no longer love if we do have pain) but a perfect and fulfilling love that is not only faithful to offer us a chance to turn back when we sin but abounding in comfort when there seems to be no explanation for our suffering.
God speaks to those coming to worship him (v.2). He lays out how they can reenter covenant with him (v.3-8) . He illustrates the irrationality of letting them continue how they are and not having any terms of the covenant (8-11). He states that he will use destruction and punishment because they do not follow him. V.19 shows it is ultimately to their own shame. V.28 shows discipline is meant to be accepted by the people to turn them back to God. V.12-15 reinforces this idea, as God cites the destruction of another place to try to motivate his people to turn to him. He reminds them of the covenant he made with their fathers and how it involved both religious practices (sacrifices, burnt offerings, etc.) and spiritual devotion (following God in all ways) (v.22-23). What was the demise of these people? Simply that they did not listen or pay attention to God (v.24-26). This is a violation of the spiritual side of the covenant. They then (Or maybe before? Or at the same time? We don’t really know I guess but it doesn’t really matter, we need both.) violated the religious side (v.17-19, v.21, v.30-31).
The idea that these people are beyond the help of prayer (v.16) is also illustrated in Ch.8. They are totally rejecting grace so that it is no longer possible to offer it to them (7:27-29).
The crime of not listening to or paying attention to God is frightening to me. I can easily forget or ignore just about anything and there are several things I don’t pay attention to. This can be a good thing at times, but also very dangerous. I must make God a priority and completely immerse myself in him if I want to remember, learn and pay him the attention of which he is so greatly worthy.
The people used the talents God gave them to build a temple designated to the Holiness of the LORD. His glory filled it. He lived among them and was evident to them by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.
I was fascinated by God’s revelation of himself as fire in this passage (and in other places, such as Moses and the burning bush). We associate fire with the devil and hell, but God is also a consuming fire. And He is light. He is the fire that leads Israel and the fire that consumes Sodom and Gomorrah. He seems to be made up of contradictions. Or is that just an earthly way of understanding Him? God doesn’t live in time or space, the two things that rule our earthly lives. Does he also exist outside of our binary realm where everything is either good or bad, black or white, agree or disagree? Maybe the gray areas in our lives are glimpses of how God can be both a guiding light and a consuming fire.
In the ESV version, the heading for this passage is “What is the Measure of My Days?”. Recently, I thought a lot about what I would consider to be a “good” day. Would I base the success of my day on how much stuff I got done, my feelings, my health, etc.? The idea of the “measure of my days” in this Psalm applies to numbering the days of life. When meditating on this, it really changes how I measure each individual day’s worth.
This Psalm seems to be written on a day with lots of tension. It began with some great personal resolve, but a need more powerful than the resolve made it end in failure. Then David started asking deeper questions (which is a great outcome of failure, it reminds us there is more to life than our own strength and accomplishments). Then he states what God is doing in his life. He trusts God and he knows His discipline is meant to turn him towards Him. Now he’s trusting God enough to firmly ask that the discipline be removed. It’s like saying “I tried, I failed, I learned my lesson. Can we start over?”. Even though David isn’t particularly happy and has been out of step with God in some way, he’s still having a “good” day because he’s running towards God rather than away from Him. I can relate to David’s emotions in this Psalm because of many days where I realize that I failed, I need God and I want to be right with Him again rather than being disciplined. The overall comfort is knowing that God loves me enough to discipline me and that he is always faithful.