Are there any ways in which we, though we claim to be Christians, are living in opposition to the way of Jesus? Are there any ways in which we are sullying his name and reputation? The more I walk through this life, the more I am concerned that there are many ways we evangelicals, especially, are guilty of doing the very thing the ancient Israelites of Ezekiel’s day were guilty of. Giving God a bad name, because of our poor behavior. How so? To name just a few, we focus on Sunday worship in buildings, rather then living out discipleship to Jesus in the community. Some of us indulge in luxury and extravagant lifestyles. We can worship celebrity. We can give our allegiance to political power. We can spend inordinate amounts of time and money on entertainment. We could go on and on. I am deeply concerned that we have defamed God’s holy name.
How does God come back from this near total defeat? How does he fix his tarnished reputation? God goes on to describe his victory in Ezekiel 39, verses 9-20. This section is another very symbolic description of God’s victory. Skim down through it and you’ll find very colorful and, frankly, gruesome descriptions. The entire passage describing his total victory must be seen in relationship to God’s reputation. God here is not describing a literal military battle, but instead a figurative rebuilding of his reputation. We can see this, I believe, when we read God’s conclusion in verses 21-29.
This section is so important because it includes more of those principles that we found earlier. What principles?
First, in verse 21, God says he will display his glory among the nations.
Next, in verse 22, the most repeated phrase of the book of Ezekiel: Israel will know that he is the Lord their God.
Third, in verses 23-24, God addresses the sin and unfaithfulness of the people of Israel that led to their exile.
Fourth, in verses 25-28, God describes his compassion for Israel, how he will rescue them, and in the process, he repeats some of the principles he has mentioned already: his zeal for his holy name, his desire to be shown as holy in the sight of the nations. Once again, he says that Israel will know that he is their God.
Finally, in verse 29, he says he will pour out his Spirit on them.
God is repeating themes that he has previously mentioned in the last few chapters. He wants to restore his good and holy name among the nations so that everyone can be in relationship with him. That means that the people of God will need to repent of their sin, renew their relationship with God, and live for him.
Thankfully, that work is not solely up to the people. Yes, God wants us to choose him. I believe in free will, and I don’t think the Bible makes sense without it. But God also is there ready to help us, and in fact, he says he will give us his Spirit. That is God the Spirit, with us. We have talked about that a lot these past few chapters. We the people of the church are the new temple of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit lives in us.
In the Hebrew mindset, people did not consider a relationship with God as the Holy Spirit living in them. Only a few exceptional leaders like David and Ezekiel experienced the work of the Holy Spirit directly in their lives. But now in Ezekiel chapter 39, verse 29, God says he will not hide his face anymore. Instead he will pour out his Spirit on them. We Christians are used to the idea of the Holy Spirit living with us, because that doctrine is a standard part of New Testament teaching. But I wonder how close we feel to the Holy Spirit? I wonder if the Spirit feels as mysterious and unrelatable to us as the Spirit likely felt to the Israelites in Ezekiel’s day?
What we conclude is that a passage that seems to be about a massive global war is actually about God’s ruined reputation. God’s is heart-broken that his people have turned away from him, so he takes drastic action to make it possible for everyone in the world to be in close relationship with him.
What about you? Are there any ways that you might have given God a bad reputation? What will you do to help rebuild God’s reputation?