In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the River Kebar, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
On the fifth of the month – it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin – the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the River Kebar in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was on him.
Ezekiel 1: 1-3
We are given quite a good description of the time when these first visions came to Ezekiel, but the exact timing is given in relationship to Ezekiel’s age. So we only know the accuracy to within a year, as we are not given the date of Ezekiel’s birth. The accepted time for these events is 593/92 BC.
What is significant about this is that the visions were given to Ezekiel during the time of the Exile of Israel into the land of the Babylonians. The Hebrews who found themselves in this position knew that it was because of the judgement of God on their nation. There had been many prophets warning of what would come. There were some prophecies as long ago as the time of Isaiah. Many of the so-called ‘minor prophets’ were giving warning of the troubles to come. One major prophet had to despair at how he was ignored by any with the power to change things – and of course that was Jeremiah. Even he was murdered by the remnant that remained in Jerusalem, according to tradition.
I feel that no-one would have actually have had ambition to be a prophet. As Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, the prophets were mocked, had false witness against them, were tortured and imprisoned, and many were put to death. And this was well known already at the time of the Exile. Some will have seen prophets put to death for speaking out against the sins of the nation and its leadership. So even though they were now living in the fulfilment of the words of prophecy, and despite their sadness and regret, it seems that they mostly considered that God had rejected them and did not want them.
And that brings me to think of our own lives. How often do we feel like God is unapproachable, because we look upon ourselves with a degree of self-loathing? I think this feeling is even quite common to some Christians, and is the reason why the sin of legalism is so rife in the church. People are desperate to find a way to try to please God, so that they can in some way feel worthy to approach Him.
But that’s not the way that it works. Not during the times of the Old Testament scriptures, and not from the time of Christ and onwards. And this is one of the lessons hidden right here in the introduction to the book of the prophecies of Ezekiel.
In the text we read that Ezekiel describes himself as the son of Buzi. For reasons that will become clearer, I do not think that this was referring to his actual human father. ‘Buzi’ means despised. It can also mean contempt. The fact that the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon, and many working as forced labour, servants or slaves, was good reason for the nation to feel that they were despised by God. And Ezekiel, as a son of the Israelites could, therefore, clearly have reason to describe himself as the son of the despised. And therefore we can see he thought of himself as a person who, although a priest, felt that maybe he himself was despised by God.
There is a theory that maybe Ezekiel was the son of Jeremiah. The reason for this was that Jeremiah became known as Buzi, because he came to be despised by the Jews for his constant warnings and prophecies of judgement. There is certainly some merit to this theory, and the relative ages of Jeremiah and Ezekiel also fit. And yet I have my doubts. To me, it seems more fitting that, to a degree, Ezekiel was feeling much the same as Isaiah, of whom we read that he said: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…”
As with Isaiah, I believe, Ezekiel began from a position of seeing his own unworthiness, and as a son of unworthy people, despised by God. And we can see in a similar way, how the ministry of Ezekiel grows, and such self-loathing becomes forgotten and left behind forever. Once you respond to the call of God, once you enter into relationship with Him, your eyes are made to look up and not down. You focus on glory, and not on the grime of sin and judgement. You see the mercy and love, rather than the judgement and destruction. You become changed from the inside out, and no matter what happens in the experience of life around you, you have seen heaven and nothing will be able to remove the joy from your heart or your soul.
The name ‘Ezekiel’ means ‘God will strengthen’ or ‘may God strengthen him.’ As you read through the book of this prophet, it seems that his name is a prophetic word about his life. Here is a man who starts from a position of feeling he is despised by God, and from a people despised by God, who learns that all is not what it seems. That God can bring hope when things seem hopeless. That he can turn disaster into success, and disappointment into joy.
Here is another thing that I wish to bring before the church in general, especially the leadership – who are guilty of acting more and more like a common and corrupt political leadership. You so often do not display and show by example to the church what is of the nature of God – and what is the subject so many times of the book of Ezekiel. In one word: restoration.
There are so many in the church who feel despised and rejected. And there are so many in the church, and in the leadership, who treat some of these as though this is only what they deserve. This is not the attitude of Christ who died for us!
This is not the attitude of the Father who sent Christ to be the restoration of mankind to himself! This is not the attitude of the Holy Spirit who inhabits and anoints such rejected people despite the attitude both of the leadership and many in the congregation (who follow the example of the leadership).
There are those who God has called into ministry. It is not the place for any man to declare that the ministry is finished – this is only for God. And, in my experience, ministry is something that God develops in a person’s life and will grow stronger and more powerful if this is allowed.
But the devil is most interested in those who God wishes to call into ministry. Passive Christians and Sunday Christians do not suffer much attack (although they may be quick to blame Satan or devils if things go wrong in their lives. Very often this is more to do with lazy thinking or bad teaching to think this way). But those who can be called to the front line, or into command positions, these will receive the greatest attention. Temptations will often be placed before them that others do not face. And, sometimes, they can fall to the temptation.
This is where Satan’s most powerful ally is now the church and the church leadership. Yes – you read correctly. Church leadership, and therefore many in the body, become the tools of Satan to prevent a powerful ministry from developing. This is happening all the time…
What happened to the man who seemed to be growing in the anointing and to be ‘going places’? Sometimes he or she can have had too much praise, and triggered pride and arrogance and so from there to a bad attitude. Or maybe the temptations started to come…so maybe they needed to confess and deal with an addiction to porn, or alcohol. Maybe there was a marriage infidelity.Maybe, even though the situation was almost beyond their control, it was that they had to go through a divorce. Or in one instance that I can think of, maybe it was that they had to confess to receiving a speeding ticket. Yes – one ministry was ended by the leadership of the church for a speeding offence.
I can fully understand leadership asking a person to ‘step down for a while and to make sure that all is well between themselves and god.’ I am not convinced that even such a thing is completely scriptural, but I can understand it and see wisdom in it.
But here is the thing: our God is interested in restoration. He wants, very much, to restore all things to himself. He is the one who has anointed people to a role or ministry and He does not change His mind! David sinned greatly when he sent Bathsheba’s husband to the front line of battle where he would certainly be killed, all so that he could be free to have Bathsheba for himself. God sent His prophet to make sure that David knew that God had seen it, and it even became public knowledge after that (and a subject of more than one of the Psalms – so there was public confession of guilt). But did God remove David as king? No! And Saul before him, Samuel brought the words of God to him on a number of occasions when God was not pleased – all with a view to restoring Saul to a better relationship with him, and so to increase his success as king. And even when it became clear that Saul would continue in sin, was he removed from office? Not during his lifetime!
We can mention Elijah who doubted God so much and ran away. Then there is an even more obvious case of the same thing with Jonah. There was the rebellious nature of Jacob, twisting and deceiving. Were these men rejected by God? No! It is the pattern of scripture that God did not forget his anointed and that he sought to restore and to mould these men into the great figures we read about in scripture.
But what do we find in the church today? You are divorced and remarried? OK, so you will never be a pastor again. You had an affair outside of marriage that you ended and put your life right with God? OK, we will never let you lead worship again. You had a parking ticket? You can’t be a deacon and you can’t teach in Sunday school. Oh, and these bans are for the rest of you life…
I will repeat: it is God who chooses His anointed. It is God who gives the anointing. It is God who wants to mould His anointed into a powerful man or woman of God. It is God who wants to use these people to bring down the strongholds of Satan and to increase victory in the church.
How dare the officers of man, or the will of man, hold down and deny God’s anointed!?! This is gross sin, and it angers God!
Yes, these people may have had sin in their life. But God is a God who restores and renews. By effectively ignoring and side-lining God’s anointed for the rest of their lives, you are effectively denying to the public a sight of one of the most important aspects of God: that He restores and renews and even makes better than was before.
And instead we have in leadership those who are qualified before men, with pieces of paper that declare the qualifications instead of the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit. And instead of anointing, we have scholarly instruction and legalism. Instead of liberation, we have judgementalism and bigotry. The public face of the church today has sometimes become very ugly as a result.
And so I finish with a reminder that the incredible ministry of Ezekiel began with a man who felt that he was despised by God and from a people despised by God. Maybe even the son of a man who was despised by his own people. And it was this man who saw the heavens opened and had visions of God.
Thank the Lord that he ignored the opinions of people and that he recorded all of these things for us to be blessed by them. We can learn so much more about the God who is restoring all things to himself – including you and me.