The Heart of Leviticus

The enigmatic book of Leviticus is not a first choice for the Church to read or study, yet I’ve been taking my congregation through it (verse-by-verse…believe it or not) for our Wednesday Bible study.  Last night we covered its theological center (or heart) which can be found in chapter 16.  Lev. 16 concerns itself with the holiest day in Judaism: the Day of Atonement (in our day referred to as Yom Kippur).  As we discussed this amazing chapter last night, we conversed about the point of this fasting day for atonement in light of everything leading up to this chapter (the sacrifices, the ordination of priests and a high priest, what is “clean/unclean and holy/common”).

So what is the point?  The point can be found in a commonly used term in the sixteenth chapter (Lev.16:7, 16, 17, 20, 23, 33; and many other places elsewhere in the Torah): the tent of meeting (Heb. אֹהֶל מוֹעֵֽד).  This “tent of meeting” (or “tabernacle”) was intended for one purpose: to be the place where Yahweh, the God of Israel, met with Israel.  The presence of Yahweh was always the point.  This is emphatically stated in the first verse of chapter sixteen which reads: “The LORD said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.'” (NIV)  Yahweh made a way for His presence to remain and for the revelation of His presence in the midst of His people (without them simply being destroyed by the need to be “clean” and “holy”).

We quickly become lost in the regulations about purity and sacrifices.  We tend to think that such matters were primarily (or even only) concerned with sin.  Not so.  That was not so.  The point was presence and relationship.[1]  Yahweh longs for relationship and makes a way back for a people of His choosing who will do what is necessary to live in His presence.

This is also the point of the gospel.  The point is not about overcoming sins or being forgiven of sins.  That is only initiatory to being received into God’s presence…to having God with us (e.g., Immanuel) and even in us.  God desires a people to Himself (Rev.21:3) and has made the way to have such immediacy even in the face of His absolute otherness.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. (Heb.10:19-23 NET)

__________________________________

[1] Gordon Wenham only includes the “presence of God” as one of the theological highlights of Leviticus, see his The Book of Leviticus (NICOT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 16-18; and John E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC 4; Dallas: Word, 1992), lxiii-lxiv.

Blessed be the One Who Grabs Babylon's Babies and Smashes Them on a Rock: A Psalm

By the rivers of Babylon we sit down and weep when we remember Zion.
On the poplars in her midst we hang our harps,
for there our captors ask us to compose songs;
those who mock us demand that we be happy, saying: “Sing for us a song about Zion!”
How can we sing a song to the LORD in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand be crippled!
May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
and do not give Jerusalem priority over whatever gives me the most joy.
Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.
They said, “Tear it down, tear it down, right to its very foundation!”
O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated!
How blessed will be the one who repays you for what you dished out to us!
How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock!
(Psalm 137:1-9 – NET)

Another psalm of weeping.  But this psalm (unlike my post on Psalm 88) is not about an individual struggle of abandonment.  This is a psalm of retribution while in captivity.  One can almost hear the rhythms of this melancholy tune, cried without instrumentation in low groans, beckoning for the God of the covenant to pay back those who have rejoiced at and participated in the judgment of Israel.  It a psalm of remembrance (zākar).  Remembrance of all that Zion was and all it was meant to be.  A call for the LORD to remember the unrelenting and unmerciful cry of victory from Esau over his brother Jacob (Obadiah 10-14).  It is a reminder of the Deuteronomic filial lex talionis (Deut.19:19; Prov.24:29).  It is a remembrance and call for the blessing of one who will destroy Babylon in the same manner that Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and kill her babies by smashing “them on a rock”.  In the manner which Babylon has treated the LORD’s people…the cry of remembrance goes up in the very heart of the empire…”Blessed (‘ašrê) will be the one…”.  But alas…who will repay Babylon (and Edom) for the actual slaying and destruction of Jerusalem’s children? (2 Kings 25:7; Lam.5:11-15)  Where will he come from?  Who could this one be who is called “happy” in doing the ‘dirty deed’?

It seems only appropriate to ask how we who are in Christ can ever pray such prayers?  Can we not just skip this psalm as belonging to a bygone era of legalistic retribution?  No…never.  We must pray it more sincerely than ever those exiled in Babylon knew how to pray it.  They prayed for justice and retribution according to the very will of the covenant keeping LORD.  We also pray this, but with the knowledge of the very embodiment of the LORD…that is of Christ Jesus.  We know for a certainty that our LORD will repay (Deut.7:10; 32:35; Isa.65:6; Jer.51:56; Rom.12:19; Heb.10:30).  We pray for the destruction of all who will not ultimately yield to the Lordship of Christ…but we also pray that all who would yield will yield before that great and terrible Day of His Coming again! In that Day everyone will receive their reward…whether to everlasting punishment or everlasting blessedness.

We do not consider only the judgment of the now, but that which is eternal.  Will we be found hidden in Christ in that Day where our deeds are found to be Spirit-empowered and lasting, or our faith is wanting and we ourselves are among those who are not even acknowledged by Him?  The dashing of children against the stones would be but a small thing in the light of that ultimate assize that awaits us all if have not trusted ourselves to the Lordship of Christ Jesus.  It is the judgment he bore for us…it is the righteousness he now bears for and in us.  If indeed we are rewarded with life (and we know this because we have received the Spirit of son-ship), we say “Blessed is the one who repays…not according to what we have done…but according to the great riches of his mercy and grace which are in glory!”   Blessed be His Name forever!

Daniel 3 – The God Who Saves

3:1-7 – The image of gold.  Theodotian and the LXX provide an interesting time note that is not included in the Aramaic text found in our Bibles.  They actually state that it was Nebuchadnezzar’s 18th year when what follows happened and that would place the incident of the fiery furnace in the very year of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (cf. Jer.52:29).  This made the trial of the three synonymous with the trial of the people of God and offered hope of salvation through the fires of Babylonian captivity. 
It is unclear whether Nebuchadnezzar made the image of himself or (more likely) of one of his gods – Marduk or Bel.  The dimensions of the image or statue are irregular.  In the Aramaic, it is sixty cubits high and six cubits wide (Walvoord pg.81 notes this as unintentionally the number of man; cf. Rev.13:18) with the NIV giving 90 feet high and 9 feet wide (appearing like an obelisk much like the Washington Monument).  In accordance with this, the Babylonians used the Sumero-Akkadian sexagesimal system of measurement which seems to be the explanation for the dimensions being in sixes (we still use this system in telling time: 24 hours, 60 minutes, 60 seconds, etc).  “To reduce [the dimensions of] the statue to something normal…[is]…to miss the point that the statue is extraordinary and monumental, even grotesque” (Goldingay 69; cf. Oppenheim 183-9).  The place for the dedication was called Dura (meaning “a walled place”) and it was likely a location six miles southeast of Babylon where a massive pedestal of bricks has been discovered. 
Why would Nebuchadnezzar set up such an image after his disturbing dreams mentioned in the second chapter?  Perhaps the dreams gave him the idea (see the comments of third century Church Father Hippolytus 2.15), but perhaps he simply did not care what the end would be and only obsessed over the present and the head of gold which represented himself.  Everyone present was commanded to worship the image at the sound of the music playing to demonstrate their loyalty to the king and to the empire and his gods (cf. Rev.13).
3:8-15 – The three Hebrews who would not bow.  Some of the “astrologers” (Aram. kaśdāyin) apparently driven by jealousy for the elevated status of the three friends of Daniel accused them before Nebuchadnezzar who otherwise would have been ignorant of their failure to bow and worship the image.  With all of the leaders of Babylon that are named as called to the dedication (Aram. hānukkah) of the image why was Daniel not mentioned specifically?  His presence at the royal court might explain his absence from this ceremony (see Dan.2:49; Miller 108) though there may be other explanations as well. 
The accusations brought against them are that they neither worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gods nor the image he has set up.  They are given another chance or will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace of fire.  Could Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego have bowed on the outside and still remained true to God on the inside? (cf. 2 Kings 5:18-19; but see Deut.4:27-28; while gross idolatry occurred at that very time in the temple of Jerusalem according to Ezekiel 8, yet the three remained pure in far off Babylon where no one would have been the wiser).  Note Nebuchadnezzar’s challenge that no god could save the three from his hand (compare the similar comments by Rabshekah in 2 Ki.18:33-35; Isa.36:17-20).  In fact, in another place we discover that Nebuchadnezzar did kill two men – Zedekiah and Ahab – by throwing them into a fire (Jer.29:22).  However, this account is not really a contest between Nebuchadnezzar and the three…it is a story about the one True God and His power and presence.  This is not a “moral story” but it is a “display of a God who is faithful to His people even in captivity and is ever ready to deliver those who put their trust in Him.  The contrast of the God of Israel to the idols of Babylon is a reminder that the god of this world, behind the Gentile dominion, is doomed to judgment at the hands of the sovereign God” (Walvoord 94).
 3:16-23 – Thrown into the fire.  The three offered no defense of themselves, but left everything to their God.  “Formally, the existence of their God is expressed hypothetically; but neither they nor the reader actually question his existence as uncertain. Given that he exists, he is able to rescue…and he will rescue (that is a bold, un-evidenced wager parallel to those of 1:12-13; 2:14-16)” (Goldingay 73).  According to the fourth century writer Jerome, “They indicate that it will not be a matter of God’s inability, but rather of His sovereign will if they do perish” (Miller 120).  They would neither worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gods (which each of the three were named after) nor would they bow before the image outwardly.  They stood upon the promise that their God would be with them even through the fire (cf. Exo.3:12; Isa.7:14; 43:1-3) and so in essence they were saying, “Death is preferable to apostasy” (Goldingay 74; note the confession of Job 13:15). 
John Walvoord proposes that “the blazing furnace” following the Aramaic should be read without the definite article “the” and therefore would have “the resultant meaning that He [God] could deliver them from any fiery furnace, not just the one immediately at hand” (89).  Their denial of worship absolutely infuriated Nebuchadnezzar who had the furnace heated “seven times hotter” which suggests simply that it could not be hotter (on the use of seven times cf. Prov.24:16; 26:16).  His rage (as often is the case) moved beyond reason and instead of a slow burn which would have proven more painful to the three, he instead chose to kill them more quickly.  The heat of the fires seems to match the heat of his temper. 
He called for his strongest soldiers to throw them into the furnace, but this proved fatal to the soldiers.  It appears that the three were thrown in through some hole in the top and then later the king saw them through some hole lower in the massive furnace.  In the rush to punish the three they are not even stripped of their clothing as would have been normally done and so they were thrown into the fire with all their garments still on (though the exact translation of just what it was that the three Aramaic terms refer to remains unclear the significance is that they were thrown into the fire with clothes on and pulled out with their clothes not even singed or smelling of smoke let alone the any of their hairs singed, but the ropes were burned right off).  At this point in the LXX the “Prayer of Azariah” and the “Song of the Three Hebrew Children” is inserted between Dan.2:23 and 2:24.  The Rabbis have written that at the very moment the three were thrown into the fire Ezekiel was sent to restore the dead in the valley of dry bones…God was protecting and giving life (Sanhedrin Tractate, Rodkinson 279).
The Prayer of Azariah (and The Song of the Three Hebrew Children – NRS)
1:1 They walked around in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord. 2 Then Azariah stood still in the fire and prayed aloud: 3 “Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and worthy of praise; and glorious is your name forever! 4 For you are just in all you have done;
all your works are true and your ways right, and all your judgments are true. 5 You have executed true judgments in all you have brought upon us and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our ancestors; by a true judgment you have brought all this upon us because of our sins. 6 For we have sinned and broken your law in turning away from you; in all matters we have sinned grievously. 7 We have not obeyed your commandments, we have not kept them or done what you have commanded us for our own good. 8 So all that you have brought upon us, and all that you have done to us, you have done by a true judgment. 9 You have handed us over to our enemies, lawless and hateful rebels, and to an unjust king, the most wicked in all the world. 10 And now we cannot open our mouths; we, your servants who worship you, have become a shame and a reproach. 11 For your name’s sake do not give us up forever, and do not annul your covenant. 12 Do not withdraw your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham your beloved and for the sake of your servant Isaac and Israel your holy one, 13 to whom you promised to multiply their descendants like the stars of heaven and like the sand on the shore of the sea. 14 For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any other nation, and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins. 15 In our day we have no ruler, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before you and to find mercy.
 16 Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, 17 as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, or with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in your sight today, and may we unreservedly follow you, for no shame will come to those who trust in you. 18 And now with all our heart we follow you; we fear you and seek your presence. 19 Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your patience and in your abundant mercy. 20 Deliver us in accordance with your marvelous works, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.21 Let all who do harm to your servants be put to shame; let them be disgraced and deprived of all power, and let their strength be broken. 22 Let them know that you alone are the Lord God, glorious over the whole world.” 23 Now the king’s servants who threw them in kept stoking the furnace with naphtha, pitch, tow, and brushwood. 24 And the flames poured out above the furnace forty-nine cubits, 25 and spread out and burned those Chaldeans who were caught near the furnace. 26 But the angel of the Lord came down into the furnace to be with Azariah and his companions, and drove the fiery flame out of the furnace, 27 and made the inside of the furnace as though a moist wind were whistling through it. The fire did not touch them at all and caused them no pain or distress.
 28 Then the three with one voice praised and glorified and blessed God in the furnace: 29 “Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and to be praised and highly exalted forever;30 And blessed is your glorious, holy name, and to be highly praised and highly exalted forever.31 Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory, and to be extolled and highly glorified forever.32 Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne on the cherubim, and to be praised and highly exalted forever.33 Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom, and to be extolled and highly exalted forever.34 Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven, and to be sung and glorified forever.35 “Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.36 Bless the Lord, you heavens; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.37 Bless the Lord, you angels of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.38 Bless the Lord, all you waters above the heavens; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.39 Bless the Lord, all you powers of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.40 Bless the Lord, sun and moon; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.41 Bless the Lord, stars of heaven; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.42 “Bless the Lord, all rain and dew; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.43 Bless the Lord, all you winds; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.44 Bless the Lord, fire and heat; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.45 Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.46 Bless the Lord, dews and falling snow; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.47 Bless the Lord, nights and days; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.48 Bless the Lord, light and darkness; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.49 Bless the Lord, ice and cold; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.50 Bless the Lord, frosts and snows; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.51 Bless the Lord, lightnings and clouds; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.52 “Let the earth bless the Lord; let it sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.53 Bless the Lord, mountains and hills; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.54 Bless the Lord, all that grows in the ground; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.55 Bless the Lord, seas and rivers; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.56 Bless the Lord, you springs; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.57 Bless the Lord, you whales and all that swim in the waters; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.58 Bless the Lord, all birds of the air; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.59 Bless the Lord, all wild animals and cattle; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.60 “Bless the Lord, all people on earth; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.61 Bless the Lord, O Israel; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.62 Bless the Lord, you priests of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.63 Bless the Lord, you servants of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.64 Bless the Lord, spirits and souls of the righteous; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.65 Bless the Lord, you who are holy and humble in heart; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.66 “Bless the Lord, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever. For he has rescued us from Hades and saved us from the power of death, and delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace; from the midst of the fire he has delivered us.67 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.68 All who worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, sing praise to him and give thanks to him, for his mercy endures forever.”
(NRS = New Revised Standard Version. Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America)
3:24-30 – The God who walks in the fire.  Why might the Lord have allowed Nebuchadnezzar to be the first one to see the three walking in the fire and also a fourth in the fire?  They were tied and he noted they were unbound…they were thrown into a fire so hot it killed his strongest soldiers for just getting to close and he noted they were unha
rmed and walking around (and in the LXX they are actually singing!).  Who exactly is the fourth one seen by Nebuchadnezzar in the fire who never emerges from the flames?  Note the reference in Isaiah 43:1-3 about the LORD being with His people even through the fire.  One who looks like “a son of the gods” (Aram. bar ’elāhin) or even “a divine being” is a far more likely rendering in English than the KJV’s “Son of God”.  Nebuchadnezzar also refered to this fourth being as God’s “angel” (Aram. mal’ak) sent to care for His servants.  
What sort of transformation should this have made in him or did this make in him?  His use of “the Most High God” is really not significant as it is other times spoken by those who were not of the faith of Israel (cf. Gen.14:19; Num.24:16; Isa.14:14).  It is not that the king abandons his gods, but that he demanded that none blaspheme the God of the Jews under punishment of the very things he had declared he would do to those who failed to tell him his dreams and then interpret them (Dan.2:5).  They were willing to give up their very lives or literally “yielded up their bodies” (and Theodotian adds “to the fire” which Paul adds to his letter to the Corinthians in 1 Cor.13:3) rather than deny their God total worship and trust.  It was not a matter of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego knowing how their lives would end.  They simply knew that to trust the LORD meant that whatever happened He would be faithful and they must also be faithful because He was faithful.  This story later was taken up by Mattathias to encourage his sons in revolt against the tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century (1 Maccabees 2:59) and also by the writer of the Hebrews concerning those who “quenched the fury of the flames” in their walk of faith without having yet received the reward they sought (Heb.11:34).  Contrast the command of Deut.7:25 concerning what supposed to be done to idols with what was done to the three in this account.  The conclusion of Nebuchadnezzar is indeed the conclusion of the book of Daniel: no other god can save in the way that the God of Israel saves.

Ezekiel 45-46 – Sacred Land and Days

<!–[if !mso]> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

By Clarence Larkin (click to enlarge)
45:1-6 – The sacred district.  The full sacred area would cover an area seven miles wide and seven miles long.  One section stretching seven miles long and three miles wide would be for the priests and would be for the “Most Holy Place”.  Another section stretching seven miles long and three miles wide would be for the Levites who serve on behalf of the people of Israel in the temple.  They would no longer have towns scattered among the tribes (as in Josh. 21), but would live with all of the rest of Israel focused upon the center: the temple as the presence of the LORD in the midst of His people.  The “city” would take up a section about one mile wide and seven miles long for the whole of Israel.
45:7-12 – The prince(s) of Israel.  No longer would the princes be allowed to abuse Israel as had occurred throughout Israel’s history, but would receive a portion of the land surrounding the sides of the sacred districts.  What is the importance of fair measurements? (cf. Lev. 19:36; Deut. 25:13-16; Prov.11:1; Amos 8:5-6; Hos.12:7)  One shekel would be approximately 4 oz. and therefore one minah about 24 oz.  The ephah (for dry measurements) and bath (for liquid measurements) would be about 5.8 gallons and so the homer would be about 58 gallons total.
45:13-20 – Offerings for atonement.  Why would the LORD be so specific about the offerings Israel was to offer?  The offerings made of wheat and barley were nearly 2% of the total, the oil 1% and the sheep .5%.  These sacrifices were specifically for atonement.  What need would Israel have for atonement?  Also, note that the prince plays a particular role in making provision for the sacrifices as well.  There was to be an atonement made on the first day of the year and the seventh (were these to be repeated?) for atonement of the temple.  Why would the temple need atonement?  What sorts of sins were said to be covered by this sacrifice?
45:21-25 – The feasts.  The requirements here are notably different than those found in the Torah concerning the Passover celebration (cf. Exo.12:1-28; Num.9:1-14; Deut.16:1-8).  However, it is also notable that whereas there was never a repetition of the smearing of blood on the doorposts after the exodus from Egypt, yet in verses 19-20 the posts of the temple were to be smeared in sacrificial blood prior to the actual celebration of Passover that would begin a week later.  The other feast day is unnamed but is said to occur at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (cf. Deut. 16:13).
46:1-12 – The Sabbath and New Moon feasts.  The eastern outer court gate was perpetually kept shut, but the inner courts eastern gate was opened every Sabbath and New Moon when the prince was to come and offer sacrifices and stand at the entrance of the gate giving worship to the LORD.  The people were also to worship the LORD at that gate.  The prince must come and go at the same gateway, but the people were to leave at the opposite (if they entered north they left south and vice-versa).  What is the point of the control at the gates?  The prince was to act as just another person and would not stay longer than the rest of the people though he was the only one permitted use of the eastern inner court gate which would be shut at evening after he had gone.  There was a marked difference between what Ezekiel was instructed and what had happened throughout Israel’s history in regard to the ruler’s relations to the temple.
46:13-15 – The command to make daily offerings.  Why might the language have shifted from the third person to the second person (“you”) for these few verses?  Was Ezekiel expected to participate in this?  Also, how does the nature of the sacrifices being a “lasting ordinance” relate to what is written in Hebrews 7:27; 9:25-10:18?
46:16-18 – The prince and his land.  What is the importance of the inheritance being kept within the prince’s family and of the prince not being able to take any property from the rest of the house of Israel?  (on acquisition of Israelite territories and inheritance issues see Deut.17:14-20; 2 Sam.9:7; 16:4; 24:24; 1 Kings 9:16; 16:24; 21:1-29)  Many have often confused the notion of this “prince” with the Messiah, but Iain Duguid astutely notes, “It is the temple that points us to Jesus, not the prince” (NIVAC 524).
46:19-24 – The importance of the kitchens.  Why should Ezekiel be shown the kitchens in the temple and why should these be mentioned for us?  It is significant because temples of the ancient Near East were places for the gods to feast, but not for the general population, but in the temple of the LORD He prepares a table before His people and shares it with them (cf. Ps. 23:5; Matt.
22:1-14; Rev.3:20; 19:9).

The Proverbs: Wisdom or Universal Principles?

Proverbs 26:4 4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you yourself also be like him. Context (NET)
Proverbs 26:5 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own estimation. Context (NET)

These two proverbs which happen to be specifically placed alongside of one another are key to recognizing the nature of proverbs (and I believe the nature of Scripture). The first says “Do not answer a fool according to his folly…” while the second says “Answer a fool according to his folly…”. How should we understand this seemingly contradictory instruction? I believe that it is imperative to understand context and by “context” I do not simply mean the necessity to understand the biblical, religious, cultural, historical context of Scripture (as important as that is it is still only part of the context), but also our own personal context. This is where one must practice wisdom. Wisdom is not simply knowledge, but it is knowledge applied in the right time and the right way. This is the life lived in step with the Spirit.

The proverbs are not intended (at least most) as universal principles, but as teaching one to use discernment in all matters. One needs to recognize when it is the right time to help someone out financially (Prov. 3:28; 21:26; 25:21) and when and how to not help someone out financially (Prov. 6:1-3; 11:15; but contrasted in Prov. 20:16). One needs to know when it is the right time to confront a fool (Prov. 26:5; compare Matt. 23:17) and when not to confront a fool (Prov. 26:4; Matt. 7:6).

Reflecting on Scripture outside of Proverbs one needs still to know when they should be in mourning and repentance (James 4:8), and when to stand firm on the promise of their sure salvation (Heb. 6:11). One needs to know when it is the right time and manner to confront the hypocrites (Matt. 23:13, 15, 23, etc.) and when it is the right time to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39).

May I learn wisdom…may I learn to apply the truth of Scripture to my own circumstances in line with the leading of the Spirit of God…may I learn to not treat Scripture like a simple check-list where I go to know to do this-or-that, but where I encounter the living voice of the Living God and offer a living sacrifice of obedience.

Ezekiel 10-11 – The Glory of the LORD Departs

10:1 – How does this vision compare and contrast with the vision of chapter one?

10:2-8 – The “man dressed in linen” previously marked the righteous of Jerusalem and at this point was told to gather coals of fire from under the divine chariot and scatter them over Jerusalem (for “fire” in Jerusalem see 2 Kings 25:9; 2 Chron. 36:19; for an angel who will use the “fire” from the altar in final judgment see Rev. 8:3-5; and God as a “consuming fire” see Deut. 4:24). Why does a cloud fill the inner court as the coals of fire are taken? Why are the glory of the LORD and the wings of the cherubim moving? What does it mean for a sound to be “like the voice of God Almighty (Heb. El Shadday)”? (Exo. 6:3; cf. Ps. 29:3; Eze. 1:24; Heb. 12:18-19; Rev. 10:3-4)

10:9-17 – What do we make of the further description of the wheels and cherubim? Why are the cherubim suddenly described as covered with “eyes”? Why is the order and description of the cherubim’s faces (10:14) different than in 1:10? Daniel Block thinks because of the different direction Ezekiel is facing in relation to the cherubim affects the different ordering and he also proposes that the bull and cherubim faces are just two ways of describing the same face (NICOT 324-5).

10:18-19 – Why does the glory of the LORD and the chariot rise? Notice that there is a pause while leaving Jerusalem. What is the possible significance of this? Why should it be emphasized that the cherubim (and the wheels) go straight ahead? Also, why repeatedly remind the reader that these are the very same creatures as in chapter one’s vision (10:15, 20, 22)?

11:1-6 – Why does Ezekiel mention Jaazaniah (who is different than the man with the same name in 9:11) son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah among the 25 leaders noticed? Likely because he knew them and the people he was prophesying to knew them and he was specifically exposing their sins (which were plotting evil and giving wicked advice – cf. Micah 2:1). What is the meaning of the “cooking pot”? Why do they think it will soon be time to build houses? “Prophesy against them, prophesy” places particular emphasis upon the demands of the LORD to Ezekiel. What does the Spirit of the LORD say? He knows their hearts and their violence against the people of Jerusalem (see Eze. 22:27).

11:7-12 – The leaders of Jerusalem are “not the meat” in the pot? How is this bad? What does it mean that they are the refuse outside the pot? (refer to the entire prophesy of Eze. 8-11) Note again the reason given repetitively, “You will know that I am the LORD” (11:10, 12) and therefore the covenant responsibilities this places upon them (11:12). How has the pot motif changed in this vision? It was no longer a safe place, but now the place where they have been consuming the people of Jerusalem (cf. Micah 3:1-3). They are the refuse from the pot and as such are going from the frying pan and into the fire. Why is the judgment of them said to occur “at the borders of Israel”? Who should Israel have been conformed to? (11:12)

11:13 – While Ezekiel was prophesying Pelatiah (“the LORD has delivered”) son of Benaiah (“the LORD has built up”) died. According to Daniel Block (NICOT 338), he “symbolized the hope of Jerusalem” and so his death would signal the end of Jerusalem’s hope that they would be delivered. Ezekiel’s exclamation following Pelatiah’s death seems to be the answer to his parallel statement in 9:8.

11:14-15 – “Your brothers, your brothers”? Why is this doubled? It is emphatic about who will be redeemed. “Your blood relatives” is literally “men of your redemption” which is a reference to the next of kin responsible for redeeming you if needed (see the “kinsman-redeemer” of Ruth; Lev. 24:47-55; 25:23-34; Num.35:19-28).

11:16 – What does it mean that the LORD has become “a sanctuary” (Heb. miqdash; cf. 8:6; 9:6 – where it refers to the Temple) for “a little while” (or less likely “of a lesser degree”) for the exiles who have been removed from Jerusalem? (see also John 2:19-22; 3:21-23)

11:17-21 – When was the promise of the exiles returning fulfilled? Who is the promise addressed to – the people of Jerusalem or the exiles? Who will bring Israel back and who exiled them to begin with? What does this say about the LORD’s involvement in the affairs of people? Who was responsible for cleansing the land? Who will give them a new heart and new spirit (but compare Eze. 18:31)? Contrast the new hearts of 11:19 with the hearts of 14:3 and 20:16. What was the heart change expected to accomplish? The key statement here is “They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Exo. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:33; Eze. 14:11; 36:28; 37:27; Hosea 2:23; Zech. 13:9; 2 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 8:10; Rev. 21:3).

11:22-25 – Why does the glory of the LORD stop over the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem? Apparently the glory departs for twenty years until Ezekiel 43 speaks of the glory of the LORD returning. Suddenly Ezekiel is returned from the vision to the exiles whom he immediately informs about what he just saw (chapters 8-11). How did they respond? We aren’t told what their immediate response was. Iain Duguid describes the connection between the “glory” of Ezekiel 10-11 and Jesus as mentioned in Matthew 23:37-24:3: “There Jesus laments Jerusalem’s history of hard-heartedness towards the prophets and her refusal to come to him (23:37). As a result, her house will be left desolate (23:38), and Jerusalem will not see Jesus again until they are willing to welcome his coming (23:39). He then prophesies the forthcoming destruction of the temple (24:1) and removes himself to the mount of Olives, leaving behind a magnificent but doomed structure” (NIVAC 153).

Ezekiel 4-5 – Playing God Against Jerusalem

4:1-3 – Why the illustrated sermon? Or is it far more than an illustrated sermon? Does this prophetic play act (“sign-acts” Block NICOT 164-167) effect what is dramatized? Why does Ezekiel make a model of Jerusalem and then lay siege to it?

4:3 – What is the reason for the sign (Heb. ‘ot)? (Eze.12:6, 11; 24:24; cf. Ex.7:5; 9:13-17; Deut.4:32-39) ‘That they may know that I am Yahweh’ (LORD).

4:3-4 – To whom does “House of Israel” refer? To the northern ten tribes or to the whole united kingdom of Israel? It seems most likely it refers (in this section’s context) to refer to the whole with Jerusalem as the only rightful center of the nation (see Eze.4:13; 5:4).

4:4-5 – What does the 390 (LXX “190”) days per year refer to? Likely to the time since Solomon built the Temple of the LORD, the Glory filled it, and shortly thereafter he led the nation into idolatry (1 Ki.11:1-8, 33; 14:21-24; Eze.20:27-29). This would place the beginning at about 976 BC. Did Ezekiel really lay on his side for 390 days or was it only portions of each day? Also, what does it mean that he was to “bear the sins” of Israel and Judah? (see Ex.28:38; Num.18:1) What then does the 40 days refer to? Likely it refers to an exilic generation.

4:6 – For each day being in the place of a year see Num.14:33-35.

4:7 – Why does Ezekiel “bare his arm” against Jerusalem? It was “a military gesture of a warrior preparing for battle” (Block NICOT 180; see a similar statement where the LORD bares His arm in Isa.52:10).

4:8 – Again, what does it mean that the LORD tells Ezekiel to do all these things and yet also tells he will bind him with ropes so he cannot get up? Is Ezekiel responsible or the LORD?

4:9 – What do we make of the strange mixture (grains and legumes) for the bread Ezekiel was supposed to eat for 390 days? “The strange mixture symbolizes a situation where the scarcity was such that no one kind of grain was plentiful enough on its own to make a whole loaf” (Duguid NIVAC 89).

4:10-11 – What is our measurement of how much Ezekiel was allowed to eat and drink each day and what did it signify?

4:12 – Why was the cake “like a barley cake”? It seems this was because the bread of the poor was barley.

4:13-15 – “Use human excrement for fuel”? For the meaning of this (see Eze.4:14; cf. Deut.23:11-13); for Ezekiel’s plea for purity in himself (see Lev.7:18; 19:7; Deut.26:13-15). How should we understand Ezekiel’s plea (intercession?) and the LORD’s relenting? Is he representative of the few among the remnant that would yet remain pure? Why did he not ask for a relenting of the other commands?

4:16-17 – Scarcity is the judgment of the LORD against Israel for unfaithfulness to the covenant (Lev.26).

5:1 – Using a sword as a barber’s razor? For priestly laws concerning shaving (see Num.6:5; 8:7); for examples of shaving in certain circumstances being wrong and a sign of judgment (see Lev.21:5; Deut.14:1; Isa.7:20; Eze.44:20). Why was Ezekiel to use a scale to weigh the hair? This would seem to be because the LORD was going to be very exacting and deliberate in His judgments of Israel.

5:2-4 – What happened to each portion of hair and what is the significance? (5:12) Who will pursue Israel in judgment? Why were “a few strands of hair” to be kept in the fold of Ezekiel’s garments? Note that 5:4 speaks of removing even some of these kept hairs and also burning them? (Lev.26:36-39)

5:5-7 – Is the LORD’s election of Israel unqualified? (Eze.5:6; cf Luke 12:48; Heb.6:4-12; 10:26-31). According to 5:7, what is the LORD’s charge against Israel?

5:8-10 – What a fearful thing to hear the LORD say, “I myself am against you” (contrast this with “I am with you” in Gen.28:15; 26:3, 24, ; 31:3). What does 5:9 teach us about the LORD’s judgment? In 5:10 we are horrified by a judgment of family cannibalism, but this is the zonsequence of covenantal disobedience (see Lev.26:29; Deut.28:53-57; 2 Ki.6:24-31; Isa.9:19-21; 49:26; Jer.19:9; Zech.11:9; Lam.4:10).

5:11-13 – Is the LORD’s judgment “fair”? How should we understand the LORD swearing by his own life and what does it mean when He says, “I will not look on you with pity”? (see Deut.7:16; 13:8; 19:13, 21; 25:12; but also see the hope of Lev.26:44-45)

5:14-15 – Note the response of the nations around Israel and the judgments comparison to the promised judgments of the Song of Moses (Deut.32:23-25).

Ezekiel 2-3 – The Calling of the Son of Man

2:1 – Why should Ezekiel have to stand in order to listen to the LORD? It would seem to be because his calling is to action. Why is he called “son of man” (ben ‘adam)? It is to emphasize his humanity in the presence of the glory of the LORD. Also, it must be noted that Ezekiel in this instance is enabled to do what he does (stand, speak, not speak, go, etc.) only by the Spirit, which places him in relation to the “living creatures” of chapter one. What relation does this have in regard to the relationship between the Spirit and the person filled with the Spirit? Are we to regard those with the Spirit as automatons or is there any sense of participation/rebellion against the Spirit?

2:3 – Why is Israel called “a rebellious nation” (MT – goyim; Syriac – goy; LXX – lacking) and “a rebellious house”? Duguid (NIVAC 68) notes the strikingly reversed contrast between Israel as goyim “nations” and the Gentiles as ‘am “a people”. And who are they in fact rebellious against? The Hebrew term for the LORD’s “sending” of Ezekiel is comparable to the word for Christ’s “sending” the twelve and the seventy. Who has sent Ezekiel? (2:4)

2:5 – The “rebellious” acts of Israel are comparable to the rebellious child of Deut.21:18-21. Why should it matter that a real “prophet” was among them and what does this mean?

2:6 – “Don’t be afraid” – Why should Ezekiel be afraid and why not? The “briars, thorns and scorpions” may actually not refer to Israel, but to divine protection from Israel (see Jer.15:19-21; Block NICOT 121-122).

2:8-10 – “Open your mouth and eat what I give you”? (see Acts 10) He is given a scroll with writing on both sides? What is the significance of both the eating of the scroll and the writing on both sides as well as what is written? Iain Duguid (NIVAC 69-70, 79) has compared and contrasted Adam with the “son of adam” – Ezekiel (set in further contrast to the rebellious “sons of Israel”). He included such things as: the “breath of life” (Gen.2:7) versus the “spirit” (Eze.2:2; 3:12, 14, 24); the test of obedience (Gen.2:17; Eze.2:8); the contrast of what is eaten between the fruit that is considered “good for food, pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom” but leads to judgment (Gen.2:17; 3:6) versus what a scroll covered on both sides with writings of lament, mourning and woe but which may lead to life (Eze.2:10); and finally in both cases disobedience to the command of the LORD concerning eating will result in certain death (Gen.2:17; Eze.3:18).

3:1-3 – Ezekiel eats the scroll. What is the significance of it being sweet? (Psalm 19:10; 119:103; Rev.10:9-10) Also, why should Ezekiel make sure to fill his belly with the scroll?

3:5-6 – It is a shocking thing to note that foreigners (i.e., Gentiles) would have listened to the word of the LORD through Ezekiel as opposed to Israel (see Matt.11:20-24).

3:8-9 – Why would (or should) the LORD “harden” Ezekiel? (note the word-play with his name which means “God hardens”) “The message of God’s spokespersons derives not from private reasoning or logic, or from mystical reflection, but from revelation” (Block NICOT 131).

3:14-15 – What is the prophet’s attitude? Compare his response to Jeremiah 15:17.

3:16-21 – This pronouncement to Ezekiel has the elements of a legal pronouncement, however this message is specifically only for Ezekiel to be reminded of the seriousness of his call to prophecy to Israel no matter what their response will be (see Eze.33; Block NICOT 142-143). Who is the ‘enemy’ Ezekiel as the “watchman” must warn Israel about? Concerning the prophetic “watchman” see Hos.9:8; Jer.6:17; Heb.10:31.

3:18-21 – What constitutes someone being referred to as either “evil” or “righteous” in this context? The basis of judgment is the issue of faithfulness to the covenant (Deut.24:13 – where Torah obedience means “righteousness”).

3:20 – What kind of “stumbling block” did the LORD put in front of the “righteous” who did “evil”? (see Eze.7:19; 14:3-4; 18:30; 44:12; cf. Psalm 119:65) Why would the LORD do this? (Isa.8:14; Jer.6:21)

3:23 – What is Ezekiel’s reaction to another appearance of the glory of the LORD? Has he grown accustomed to this presence? (see Rev.4:1-11)

3:26 – Why would the LORD not allow Ezekiel to speak after giving him a message? The NIV reads “to rebuke” where the Hebrew (’ish mokiah) reads literally “an arbitrating man” (Block NICOT 159; Duguid NIVAC 80); thus implying there can be no intercession for Israel (which is one of the roles of a prophet – see Gen.20:7 concerning Abraham – and priest). What does this say of judgment and mercy in regard to Israel?

2 Kings 20-21 – Hezekiah and Manasseh: Room for Repentance and Restoration?

20:1 – The LORD says Hezekiah will certainly die…but then Hezekiah prays and the LORD sends Isaiah back to Hezekiah to tell him that the LORD will actually heal him and he will live another 15 years (20:6; Isa.38:10-20). Has the LORD changed His mind?

20:8 – What is the significance of Hezekiah asking for a sign? (contrast with Ahaz in Isa.7:12)

20:12 – Why was Merodach-Baladan of Babylon visiting Hezekiah? (Isa.39:1)

20:13-15 – Why did Hezekiah show the Babylonians everything? According to 2 Chronicles 32:31 this moment was a test of the LORD. Did Hezekiah pass the test?

20:19 – How should we understand Hezekiah’s response to the LORD’s promise of plundering and exile by Babylon (20:17-18)? Does Hezekiah not care as long as it does not happen while he is king? Does Hezekiah simply acknowledge what will be no matter what and is thankful that the LORD has granted that it not occur sooner? (see the context for understanding this response as given in Isa.40ff)

20:20 – What is the significance of mentioning “the tunnel” that Hezekiah had dug? This tunnel is nearly 1600 feet long and allowed for water access in case of a siege.

21:1 – Manasseh – son of Hezekiah. He reigned for 55 years (697-642BC) over Judah (10 years the throne was shared with his father Hezekiah) doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD. According to Assyrian records, he supported Assyria as a vassal state with only one brief rebellion (2 Chron.33:10-13). He led Judah into idolatry that was worse than the nations driven out by Israel (21:3-5). He rebuilt the “high places” (like Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:31; which his father Hezekiah had removed in 2 Kings 18:4), erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah (like Ahab in 1 Kings 16:31; see Deut.16:21) which he even placed in the temple of the LORD, built altars to the starry hosts (like Ahaz in 2 Kings 16:10-16; see Deut.4:19; Jer.7:18), he also practiced child sacrifice (like Ahaz 2 Kings 16:3), practiced sorcery, divination, consulted mediums and spiritists (see Lev.18:21; Deut.18:9-13). He violated the Davidic covenant (2 Sam.7:7-17), the Temple of the LORD (Deut.12:1-32; 1 Kings 9:1-9), and the Mosaic Law (Deut.28:49-63). He rejected the word of the LORD through the prophets (2 Kings 21:10-15) and reputed to have killed Isaiah (see 21:16 below). According to 2 Chronicles 33:10-17 during his brief rebellion against Assyria he was taken as an exile (by himself?) in chains with a ring through his nose to Babylon (?) until he repented to the LORD (see the apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh) and the LORD restored him to his throne in Jerusalem. He even removed many of the idols and shrines he had built, but this appears to not have lasted long and the writer of Kings never mentions this positive note about Manasseh.

21:10 – What do the “prophets” signify? They signify that the LORD has not utterly abandoned His people. They are grace and mercy, righteousness and justice calling to His people to repent. They are representative of the faithful who hear the word of the LORD and obey. They are the testimony to the covenant and to the responsibility inherent in the covenant in order to experience the blessings of the covenant.

21:12 – “the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle”? (see Jer.15:1-4) The judgment of a plumb-line like the one used against Samaria will be used against Jerusalem (Amos 7:7-9) as well as like the washing of a dish that is turned over, but what does all of this mean? It means that the judgment which is coming will be beyond repair and will be utterly devastating even to the nations who are witness to this judgment.

21:16 – What does it mean that Manasseh “filled Jerusalem from one end to the other” by shedding so much innocent blood? Tradition says that Manasseh had Isaiah sawn in two (this account is given in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 5.1; several Targumim and many Early Church Fathers like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen; see also Heb.11:37). Josephus wrote that Manasseh had prophets killed daily in Jerusalem as well as slaughtering any righteous persons he found (Ant.10.37-38).

21:18, 26 – What is the reference to Manasseh and Amon being “buried in the garden of Uzza”? Konkel suggests that the “garden of Uzza” may be referring to “an enclosed space constructed in honor of a Canaanite astral deity” named Attar-melek, which was the star Venus, in Arabic named “Uzza” (NIVAC 623).

21:19 – Amon – son of Manasseh. He reigned for 2 years (642-640BC) over Judah doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD just like his father Manasseh. He was assassinated (by whom?) and the assassins were put to death by those loyal to the family of David.