EZEKIEL 21:1-22:31 | HEBREWS 10:1-17 | PSALM 108:1-13 | PROVERBS 27:12
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The judgment against Israel will come to pass — this much is clear, and Ezekiel, the prophet, has been commissioned by the Lord through a vision to make known to his people the things that are in store for them.
Babylon is the captor again, and there is to be much destruction and death before there is to be restoration. The temple in Jerusalem will be annihilated by the kings of Babylon, and Israel will be hanging by the skin of her teeth before it is all over.
These are the words that the Lord instructs Ezekiel to deliver to his people:
25 “‘You profane and wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax, 26 this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low. 27 A ruin! A ruin! I will make it a ruin! The crown will not be restored until he to whom it rightfully belongs shall come; to him I will give it.’
There is to be judgment on the sins of Jerusalem, and these unfortunate words are leveled against its people by the Lord via Ezekiel:
You city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst and defiles herself by making idols, 4 you have become guilty because of the blood you have shed and have become defiled by the idols you have made. You have brought your days to a close, and the end of your years has come. Therefore I will make you an object of scorn to the nations and a laughingstock to all the countries. 5 Those who are near and those who are far away will mock you, you infamous city, full of turmoil.
Would that the children of Israel had inclined their ear to Ezekiel’s words! Would that they had turned from their ways! But alas, they did not.
Despite the way out that was offered time and time again, they did not listen, and if they did, they did not heed the words of the Lord, or of his prophets.
In line with this, the Lord says:
30 “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. 31 So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
Turning now to our reading of the book of Hebrews, we find that the writer is determined to make his point as perfectly clear as possible.
No priest, no temple, no sacrifice, please! No longer necessary, thank you very much!
This letter is directed to the new believers in the Christian faith who were grappling with their Jewish origins and heritage in how they might reconcile them with their faith in Christ.
Could it be that all our observances and practices are for naught, now that we have been ushered into this new union with God through Christ?
Yes, says the writer, yes indeed!
To further explain the futility of animal sacrifices, he speaks of the perfect sacrifice that has already been made in the person of Jesus Christ. And what’s more, not only is this the perfect sacrifice, it is the ultimate one because it is once and for all. It satisfies every requirement that was made by the law and by a perfect God.
While the life-blood of animals served as a temporary stopgap offering to atone for human sins, it fell short on two significant counts: perfection and permanence.
And so, several millenia later, God changed the plan in that he came down in person, i.e., in the person of Jesus Christ to present himself as the sacrifice that was needed in order to be eternally united with his creation.
Therefore, a new covenant was unveiled. A covenant based on freewill and grace. Freewill to be exercised on the part of the person; and grace to be extended from God who nullified every prior requirement by way of accepting the shed blood of his own son to serve as a perfect and ultimate sacrifice.
This is how the writer of Hebrews explains this to his predominantly Jewish readers:
1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Can you imagine the astonishment of the Jewish person who is reading this, perhaps several times over, just to understand clearly the import of this declaration!
They must have finally thought: this is it, this is all is needed; we are free of the burden of sin now that we have believed and accepted this truth; we are now in a new covenant with the Lord!
But the writer is not finished just yet. He goes on to make his point even more clear in these verses that follow.
He says: 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
“This priest”, of course, is none other than Jesus Christ himself. The writer then invokes the presence of the third member of the holy trinity in the Holy Spirit, and says this:
15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
This is what grace is all about, gentle reader! This is not the voice of justice; it is the voice of mercy and forgiveness.
We turn now to our reading of the Psalms, and find in Psalm 108, a beautiful example of the praise and thanksgiving that David is most well-known for. May it be that like him, we might lift our voices to offer up praise to God. David says:
3 I will praise you, LORD, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
4 For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
6 Save us and help us with your right hand,
that those you love may be delivered.
Finally, a verse from the book of Proverbs, in which Solomon, wise king of Israel, speaks to the value of good judgment and prudence:
12 The prudent see danger and take refuge,
but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.
May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word. Amen.