Over the years, as I’ve talked with numerous people about their relationship with God, what often comes up is church. If the person feels a distance from God, they often begin to talk about attendance at worship service. A phrase they share is “Yeah, I want to get back to church.” Of if a person who does attend church is talking about reaching out to their friends, they will often express a desire for their friends to go to church. It is interesting to me that a conversation about a relationship with God takes that turn. Certainly, there is a connection between the two topics. They are related. Relationship with God and attendance at worship services. But those two topics have an important distinction. It is that distinction that God brings up in the next section of Ezekiel. What is the difference between a relationship with God and a building where people worship God?
We find out in Ezekiel chapters 40-44. Let’s start by looking at Ezekiel 40, verse 1.
A few things stand out in this verse. First, dates. A lot of time has passed since Ezekiel last dated his prophecy, which was in chapter 33, verse 21. At that time, Ezekiel and the 10,000 Jews who were originally from Jerusalem in Israel had been living in exile in Babylon for nearly 13 years. On that day a man arrives from Jerusalem to tell Ezekiel and the exiles that Babylon has destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Ezekiel gives us no more dates in chapters 34-39.
Now in chapter 40 we have a new date. Ezekiel tells us that it is now the twenty-fifth year of exile. He also says that the city of Jerusalem has been laying in ruins for 14 years. To get a sense of the passage of time that Ezekiel and the exiles might have been feeling, let’s think about what was happening in our world using the same lengths of time. First of all, Ezekiel and the exiles have been living in Babylon for twenty-five years. What was happening in our world 25 years ago?
The year was 1997. Bill Clinton was president, and scandals surrounded him. The economy was booming, and something called the internet, the world wide web, was bringing a whole new approach to economic growth. I got my first email address, but most people still didn’t have them. In fact, most people didn’t have cell phones. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were the hottest thing in sports. Princess Diana died in a car crash. Mother Theresa died in India. The Dow Jones closed over 7000 for the first time ever. A gallon of gas cost $1.22. A lot changes in 25 years. That’s how long Ezekiel has been in Babylon. A long time.
But what about 14 years? That’s how much time has passed for Ezekiel since the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple. For us, 14 years ago was 2008. Economically, the country was in shambles, the Dow Jones has been tanking all year, and eventually President George W. Bush approved a massive bailout of some major banks. A little-known senator from Illinois was elected to be the first African American President of the USA. Barack Obama. A device named the iPhone had been released the year before, and it was taking the world of communications by storm. SpaceX became the first private company to send a vehicle into orbit. The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series. A lot changes in just 14 years too.
In addition to the passage of time, there is an important phrase at the end of verse 1. Ezekiel tells us that the hand of the Lord was on him. God was at work in Ezekiel’s life in amazing ways on a regular basis, but there were six times in the book when things go to another level. On each of those six occasions, Ezekiel lets us know some different is happening when he uses the phrase, “the hand of the Lord was upon me”. This time, when God’s hand is on him, God takes Ezekiel to the city of Jerusalem which had been laying in ruin for 14 years. What happens there?
Check back to the next post, and we’ll find out.