In the previous study we began to look at the commissioning of Ezekiel the prophet during his first vision of God. To be honest, the chapter divisions in this book make very little sense to me. They did not exist at all in the original and were created at a much later date for ease of reference to individual sections of the scriptures. Yet, to my thinking, the divisions in the book of Ezekiel are really inconvenient.
The introduction to the voice of God is in chapter one, and the beginning of the passage about the eating of scrolls is the last part of chapter 2, but is actually explained in chapter 3. So, as with many parts of scripture, do not think that the chapter divisions or verses mean anything of themselves. In fact, these are partly to blame for the sad and sinful proliferation of new denominations, because it leads to reading words out of context and forming beliefs and doctrines that actually do not exist at all in the scriptures, once the context is understood.
Even worse is when it is assumed that the bible is one book, and so that when an individual book of the bible speaks of itself (as in Revelations) some preachers make the big assumption that this can be applied to the whole bible.
And it is possibly even worse to make the assumption that the bible is infallible, as if it was written by God and not by many men (and possibly some women) who, like the rest of us, need to contend with their fallen nature. God is not the author, folks, only the inspiration, with men writing from their own understanding of him and his works.
Inspiration means what it says in the dictionary folks, there does not need to be a new ‘religious’ meaning for this word. And here is the crux of the problem: most of the problems come from religion and religious thinking. This is what is in the heart of man and is sin. A basic comparison of the books of Kings (all four – the books wrongly named Samuel are actually first and second Kings, thus making the others third and fourth Kings) and the books of Chronicles will reveal that there are differing records of the same events. Different numbers of people, different numbers of casualties, and many other differences. If the bible was infallible, it would not contradict itself in this way. If the ‘author’ was God, he would not make such contradicting statements, but would be consistent.
Some say that this is to devalue scripture, but that is not the case at all. It is important to recognise them for what they are, how they were written, and who they were written by – these are the things that will lead to truth. These are the things that will lead us to a better understanding of God Himself, and of what he wants with us. When you know these things, you would never form a doctrine or a rule based on something that is said in scripture only once.
If the bible is infallible, then we must believe that the world is only 6000 years old (and most ancient cultures knew already that the earth was much much older). We would also expect the bible to be consistent and not to contradict itself, and yet it does contradict itself in very many places.
If people can read, have their own bible, and begin to learn from it, then it may not be long before some of these contradictions are noticed. That leads to so many problems if your heart tells you that you have to accept the bible as being infallible.
So then the educated researchers and bible expositors twist logic into seeming Gordian knots to try to explain away these contradictions and to maintain the infallibility of scripture. In the process, they often have to show how the scripture does not say what it actually does indeed say. This, brothers and sisters, is the invention of lies to maintain a doctrine and a paradigm that the scriptures themselves do not ask for and do not support.
Then the lies are put into books and preached from the pulpit. But today we do not have congregations of mostly ignorant and illiterate, but of educated and, often, very intelligent people. It is noticed when lies are being said – whatever the good and ‘holy’ intentions of the preacher. And this is a big, big problem…
It is something that I am very outspoken about, because I have seen people walk away from the church never to return because of realising that they were being lied to. It is clear: if the preacher is prepared to propagate lies like this, what else are we being lied to about? This is how serious it is!!
But none of this is a problem at all if you recognise 2 simple things: first that it was human beings, and not god, who wrote the scriptures – although inspired by the Holy Spirit. Second, that divine inspiration meant the best intentions to deliver the truth, even though there are all the same problems that you have with witnesses to the same event that give evidence in a court of law. They saw the same event, but sometimes the details can contradict each other.
This should not be a problem, and there is a situation that is well known in the modern world that perfectly describes one way that the apparent contradictions happen. Imagine that you wanted to compile a history of Israel and Palestine for the last 40 years. You want to be diligent about this and so you will interview an elderly Israeli and also an elderly Palestinian. You will have been careful in your selection to make sure that the interviewees were not activists, bigoted, over-biased, and so on. You would choose people known for honesty and with some measure of recognised respect in terms of truthfulness and honesty. But can you honestly expect that the 2 versions of 40 years of history would be the same?
Both men would be trying to be completely open and honest with you, without distorting the truth. Maybe even both are Christians, and want to honour God and give answers inspired from their relationship with God. But I tell you, even in this circumstance you would have 2 different stories, despite 2 honourable and truthful men.
This is actually exactly how some of the difficult contradictions entered the bible – especially when considering the differences between the historic records in the books of Kings and the books of Chronicles. These were the official historic records from 2 neighbouring nations, and there was not a lot of love lost between them. People on either side of the divide saw things differently and understood things differently.
I was saved into fundamentalist Evangelical tradition – but even within this I was trained never to form a doctrine or teaching on one scripture alone. And also was trained to know the context, the history of the time of writing, and who the author was. And about the author, it is clear that the way he will write is influenced by the life he lives and the pressures that are on him because of the situation. None of these things interfere with the fact that God can be the inspiration and the governing factor of the writing.
And so the scriptures, as well as appearing to contradict each other, can also support each other – and from those things give added weight to the verity of the doctrines that really matter.
For instance, the law about wearing garments of mixed fibres – this appears just once in the scriptures. But the law about seeking the Lord with all your heart? This is many times in the scriptures. So there is an added imperative on the last one – because several ‘witnesses’ prove to us that it is true and of central importance.
Even more often repeated in the scriptures from many authors, the need for the wages of sin to be death and the need for reconciliation with God through sacrifice. Now we have hundreds of cases of evidence in the bible – so this is central.
The infallible school of thought brings us lies, and in effect only one person’s word of testimony about the central things. Recognition that scriptures have problems, and that it is because they were written by fallen men, gives greater weight to the central tenets of faith – from the fact that you have many words of testimony from many persons about those central tenets.
My faith has become stronger simply because of recognising that the scriptures are NOT infallible – because, strange as it may seem, this gives more reason and not less to believe the central things of our faith.
One more picture to describe what I mean. In a murder trial, if you only had the testimony of one eye witness, you may feel that the case is solved, but someone can always ask: what if that one witness was mistaken or lied? However, if you have 20 unrelated witnesses who all saw something that pointed to the guilt of the accused, now you have very much more reason to believe that the accused person is indeed guilty. Do you begin to understand now?
In this study we take one more look at chapter 2 of Ezekiel:
He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’ As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.
He said: ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.” And whether they listen or fail to listen – for they are a rebellious people – they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious people; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’
Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.
Now I want to look at some of the descriptions of the Israelites that Ezekiel was being sent to. At first this can seem like a negative study, but it brings into focus some very positive things.
First we are told that they are a ‘rebellious nation that has rebelled against me.’ The words of God immediately follow this up with further emphasis on the same theme, that ‘they and their ancestors have been in rebellion against me to this very day.’
Next we have the description that they are ‘obstinate and stubborn.’
About the possible reaction of the Israelites to the prophetic announcements of Ezekiel, we find encouragement from God not to be afraid, or terrified by their words. In relation to this we find the Israelites described as briers, thorns and scorpions.
So first let’s deal with the description of the Israelites as rebellious. The website dictionary.com tells us that to rebel means to resist or rise against some authority, control or tradition. So it is not only that they did not listen to the priests and prophets, it is that they actively resisted the teaching and the authority. It is known, and Jesus taught, that the prophets were abused, mocked, tortured and killed.
But this did not happen over a short period with the result of a quick judgement. Just read through the accounts in both the books of Kings and the books of Chronicles. There were many kings, and many generations, of rebellion. A long period of people doing ‘evil in the sight of God.’ There are accounts, during this time, of individuals receiving judgements for their deeds, and yet the rebellion and resistance to the true and one God remained a feature of the general population.
There were times of great intervention and miracles, for instance in the interventions at the times of Elijah and Elisha. Yet for all of this, there was still not a general turning of the nation to God.
Considering all this turning to false gods, false worship, and doing abominable acts, it was generations before God finally brought about the destruction first of Judah, then of Israel, and brought about the exile of the people. The story of history itself should be all the evidence we need to see that God is patient, loving, and slow to anger.
In contrast, the false gods that the Israelites turned to were vicious and cruel. There was the sacrifice of babies to these gods. The priests and followers would cut themselves in the process of worship and trance. They would make sacrifices to idols. They would persecute those who did not follow such practises, and so life became very difficult for those who wished to stay true to our Lord. And, of course, Jesus told how the prophets were often put to death for bringing the truth.
It is very strange, because life was not so good for the Israelites during all this rebellion. There had been famines (quite often – we read of a bad one during the ministry of Elijah, and then another during the ministry of Elisha only a few years later), and a lot of war with surrounding nations. And yet, among all the other prophecies that the prophets brought, there was a consistent theme of God having plans to bless and prosper Israel.
Perhaps the most popular of these kinds of prophecy in modern times is from Jeremiah 29:11-13
‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’
So here we have a clear sign that God was willing and ready to bring a much better life to the Israelites, and yet they rejected this and continued to sacrifice babies, have temple prostitutes (both male and female), cut themselves, and so on – and continue in wars and famines and hardships.
Of course, there was also a political coercion here – priests and governors that would lose their aristocratic living and authority if the people turned to the words of God from the prophets. And so, to maintain their privileged positions (and even their lives, because the slaughter of the false priests at the time of Elijah will be remembered and even taught as a reason to oppose the prophets of God) they would probably arrange for guards and soldiers to ‘keep the people in line.’
This actually brings another thought into mind, about how people use religion, including the Christian religion, to make themselves wealthy and live an aristocratic lifestyle. And of course to rebel against this is to rebel against god, or so they would have you believe. So while calling you to empty your pockets and wallets in the offering, they are planning the next extension to their multi-million dollar mansion, or their next holiday (sorry, ‘missionary trip’) in an exotic location.
The same preachers court politicians who make it easier for them to maintain their wealth, while the poor become even poorer. At the same time, people in the world see this and are rightly disgusted and disillusioned with the church, maybe even hardened against the gospel because of it.
How do you think god feels about all of this? It is not that the leaders ‘uphold the truth of the scriptures’ at all. They are upholding their privileged positions and using the church as the protecting army. This is made obvious by the nepotism that is so rife in these churches, with the sons and grandchildren of these over-wealthy preachers inheriting the ministry (sorry, family business) and so keeping privilege in the same family. There is nothing of the new testament church where the wealthy sold all they owned to help make sure that there were no needy in the church.
Next we come to ‘briers and thorns’ also translated as ‘thistles and thorns.’ This as a description of the people Ezekiel is being sent to. So it is going to be like walking through the prickly overgrowth, or through overgrown roses. We who are gardeners know how much you can be pricked and scratched just doing the job of pruning the roses, but Ezekiel was going to be placed right among such things.
This is a description of the people, and so Ezekiel was being warned that his message would not be well received by some. That he would make enemies. He was going to be hurt – maybe by cruel things people would say, maybe because they would want to stone him, maybe because he would lose friends or even be disowned by members of his own family.
I begin to wonder how pleased I would be to receive such a commission…
But more than this, he was being told that he lives among scorpions. In one sense this was literally true, because there are indeed more than one variety of scorpion in that part of the world. But this was a further description of the Israelites. Scorpions are not only those who react to the prophet among them (the briers and thorns), but they are active predators. They mostly hunt at night, in the cover of darkness. Their sting has a venom to paralyse their prey so that a risky (to the scorpion) fight will not be necessary. So look out for that sting!
Arrangements can be made to remove the abilities of the prophets even to do their work – it can be illegal to preach the word, they can be placed in prison, or beaten, or (as indeed happened sometimes in the ancient world) have their tongues cut out. This is how I understand the use of the picture of scorpions – that they disable their prey – so Ezekiel was being warned that there would be those who would try to disable him from doing his work and obeying the calling of the Lord.
I wonder how much this also applies not only to the Israelites of old, but also to the church today. The church that blindly seems to support Israel no matter what kind of evil act is committed by that nation. Yes, that country needs prayer, but there should not be blind and blanketing support. Evil should be called evil, no matter who is the perpetrator. To recognise evil for what it is does not make you anti-Semitic.
Then try to preach the truth in some churches without being closed down by the leadership, or maybe even banned from preaching again. This is serious and it is exactly what happens all too often. Like, trying to preach that you should show the same love and sharing of the gospel to the LGBT community as you would to any nation that you send missionary workers. Like trying to remind the church that legalism will not get you into the Kingdom, as Jesus taught, that literalism will lead to error, as Jesus also taught. Or, in some places, simply try to say the truth: that God did not write the bible. This is enough to be banished in some places, that is if they do not try to stone you.
Seriously, simply speaking the obvious, and that even the bible shows is obvious, will literally endanger your life in some parts of Britain and America! So for the Lord to send a prophet today is like the commission to Ezekiel – to be sent among thorns and thistles, and to live among scorpions.
I am saddened by the number of times I have seen bible verses quoted so far out of context that they may as well have been words of Krishna… This on Facebook and elsewhere. And the number of times I have seen photos clearly out of context, or Photoshopped, to make a point that would lead to hatred. (I can think of one showing only men emerging from a train, and with the caption that only male Moslems run away from war zones. Obviously the intent to create negativity to the refugee crisis and increase hatred of Moslems. But on close inspection you can see the same face on maybe 3 or 4 of the men in the picture, and other signs that there were cuts and adjustments to the photos. The political pressure should have been more to provide safe havens, and to prevent free movement until people have been properly vetted – because there is indeed a potential threat to security as some evil ones can pretend to be refugees when there was another intention.)
I would say that the day has come for those who will stand up and be counted. To speak openly in churches and congregations and declare the truth. To challenge the dynasties making themselves rich at the expense of the congregation, preaching wealth and legalism – which is not the gospel but is Mammon. We have the church of Mammon today instead of the church of Christ, and this truth needs shouting out against the lies from so many of the pulpits. And when lies, Photoshopped images, hatred and bigotry are spread from the pulpits, media and social media, Christians need to counter this with prayer and the declaration of the love that Jesus preached.
No-one who stands for the truth will be popular. Not even in the church. People are so blinded by Satanic theology that you will have many verses quoted against you. But note – verses and not truth or context or Christ.
I think we will soon see martyrs to the truth again. And,sadly, it will be those chosen by God to stand against the works of Satan in the Protestant churches of today.