May You Be Blessed by the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth

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EZEKIEL 33:1-34:31 | HEBREWS 13:1-25 | PSALM 115:1-18 | PROVERBS 27:21-22

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Ezekiel’s call as a prophet to his people is renewed by God.  He is given the title of “watchman”– to be literally taken as the man who watches (and warns) his people. 

This is what the Lord says to Ezekiel:  7 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.

And once again, we see the call for repentance being given out to the people through Ezekiel.  It is almost as if God is exemplifying the human quality of frustration when he says:  10 “Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”’ 11 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, people of Israel?’ 

But alas, the people do not turn from their evil ways, and we know exactly what is to befall them and their beloved Jerusalem.

Speaking of Jerusalem, her unmitigated devastation will soon be upon her, as the history books note the year of this event to have been 586 BC. 

God says to Ezekiel:  30 “As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.’ 31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. 33 “When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

But there is still something more that the Lord wants Ezekiel to tell the leaders of his people.  This speaks directly to the notion of accountability:  the kings and priests of Israel were held even more accountable for the gross backsliding that occurred on a regular basis.  These were the “shepherds” of the land, and yet, they led their flock astray. 

This is what the Lord tells Ezekiel to convey to the leaders: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

So, this is the unequivocal and final word of the Lord:  after all is said and done, there is to be restoration of the land and the people, and a new shepherd for them.  And guess who that new shepherd might be?  The Lord God himself! 

This is the word of the Lord to Ezekiel:  11 “‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

Finally, there is a ray of hope for the children of Israel! 

It has been many generations since they recognized the God of their fathers as their own God, but the time will soon come when they will indeed turn from their ways and submit to their God who will be more than just an impersonal God, but rather a God more like a good shepherd who looks out for them.  It seems like the slate will be wiped clean, and Israel will be given another chance, after all.  The things of the past will remain in the past, and there will be a new covenant of peace between God and his chosen people. 

These are the words of the Lord given to Ezekiel concerning the children of Israel:  25 “‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. 30 Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’”

Turning now to our reading of the book of Hebrews, we come upon the very last chapter that is filled with final exhortations.  The writer offers timeless advice in these lines:  1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

And also, in these:  15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

And finally, with these words that serve as a most grand benediction, the writer closes this letter:  20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 

There’s that shepherd theme again, certainly not a new one to the Jewish readers of this letter.

Turning to our Psalm for the day, we find a most sublime call for praise in the opening lines of this one:

1 Not to us, LORD, not to us
   but to your name be the glory,
   because of your love and faithfulness.

And in these lines, we see the Psalmist offering first an affirmation of the Lord’s goodness toward himself and his own house, followed by the same blessing to others.  It serves as yet another example of offering a blessing to another:

12 The LORD remembers us and will bless us:
   He will bless his people Israel,
   he will bless the house of Aaron,
13 he will bless those who fear the LORD—
   small and great alike.

14 May the LORD cause you to flourish,
   both you and your children.
15 May you be blessed by the LORD,
   the Maker of heaven and earth.

Finally, two verses from the book of Proverbs, both offering food for thought:

21 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
   but people are tested by their praise.

22 Though you grind a fool in a mortar,
   grinding them like grain with a pestle,
   you will not remove their folly from them.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.  Amen.

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