EZEKIEL 3:16-6:14 | HEBREWS 4:1-16 | PSALM 104:24-35 | PROVERBS 26:27
Ezekiel continues to receive instructions on his commission to go to his people. His task is to be that of a watchman’s: warning people to turn back from evil. So great is this responsibility on Ezekiel that were he to not do his bidding in warning the people, the Lord says to him that their blood would be on Ezekiel’s hands! The people may exercise their freewill, by all means, but not before they are fully aware of what their choices are!
Next, Ezekiel receives detailed instructions on symbolizing the siege of Jerusalem, with Ezekiel personifying the city of Jerusalem and her many travails. Following that, we see the razor of God’s judgment upon his people. Suffice to say, this is not a people to be envied; this is a people to be pitied—for the grievous things that are to soon befall them.
Because this is what the Lord says: 14 “I will make you a ruin and a reproach among the nations around you, in the sight of all who pass by. 15 You will be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and an object of horror to the nations around you when I inflict punishment on you in anger and in wrath and with stinging rebuke. I the LORD have spoken. 16 When I shoot at you with my deadly and destructive arrows of famine, I will shoot to destroy you. I will bring more and more famine upon you and cut off your supply of food. 17 I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will leave you childless. Plague and bloodshed will sweep through you, and I will bring the sword against you. I the LORD have spoken.”
But even in the midst of the great destruction that is to befall Jerusalem and the final fall of the Temple, there is a small element of pity that the Lord will show in the sparing of a few. The Lord says, 8 “‘But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. 9 Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me—how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. 10 And they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.”
Turning now to our reading of the book of Hebrews, we find the author exhorting his Jewish audience to consider the many privileges of grace and mercy under the gospel that are greater than any to be had under the Mosaic Law. This is an audience that needs reassurance that giving up their strict observances of Jewish practices will not be to their detriment. The writer, therefore, speaks of the observance of a more perfect Sabbath under this new gospel: it is one of perfect rest and peace in the knowledge that the price of one’s sins has been made already by way of the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb of God, also known as, Jesus Christ, i.e., God himself incarnate.
Is that too radical a notion to accept? It must have been a bit unsettling to the average Jew of the day who wasn’t entirely sure about Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. Could it be that the Messiah has already come and gone? You mean to say, the plan has changed now, in that both Jew and non-Jew are entitled to same privileges—and in this new dispensation of grace, there is no need to continue with old practices of offering sacrifices, observing feasts and Sabbaths, and the many other practices to approach God, the Almighty? Yes, you got that right, is what the author of the book of Hebrews is saying. You got that right, indeed!
The writer then speaks to the greatness of the word of God—which in recent times, as of the writing of this book, was in the person of Jesus Christ himself—that has supernatural powers of discernment. He says: 12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
To think that we have the privilege of approaching God directly was certainly a daunting thought to a people used to approaching God via a priest. Consider the Jewish audience this letter is directed to. To a people who were accustomed to going into a Temple and approaching a priest to offer up atonements and offerings, this was indeed a radical concept to consider the complete dismantlement of the Judaic practices of worship.
The writer, therefore, is using a familiar analogy of a priest, only he points to the perfect and ultimate priest to be Christ himself. He says: 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Does that make you feel somewhat better now, is what the writer seems to be saying to his Jewish readers. Yes, you can keep your Jewish identities, but you must relearn some new concepts that will allow you to continue with your practices and observances, but in a completely new light. Here are some ways to rethink previously held beliefs:
The Sabbath is not just a day of rest—it is a rest in the peace that has come through the knowledge of the grace of God that has taken care of all your sins. The approaching of a priest is not a routine matter of your weekly trip to the Temple— it is a bold privilege of approaching Jesus Christ, the High Priest who is there for you at any time at all, to minister to your every need, and to comfort you. So, yes, come to the High Priest with “confidence”, and “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Is this a radical concept, or what? It is completely mind-blowing, if you were a Jewish person in the first century reading this letter!
We’ll turn now to our reading of the psalms, and find in these verses, a most humble acknowledgment of the psalmists’ praise to the Almighty’s omnipotence. David says:
27 All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
28 When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.
29 When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
30 When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
May it be that like David, we are also quick to offer up these words of praise and thanksgiving:
33 I will sing to the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the LORD.
Finally, a verse from the book of Proverbs, in which Solomon, the wise king of Israel, speaks to the futility of seeking revenge. He says:
27 Whoever digs a pit will fall into it;
if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.