Saturday, December 18, 2010

Where Do You Go for Shade?

Reading: Ezekiel 31  

Are you tempted to put your trust in the strength of our nation, or in new leaders, or even the most glorious of world powers? Ezekiel 31 has a message that speaks to us today about this.  

The Lord speaks to Pharaoh king of Egypt. “Who can be compared with you in majesty?” Then the rest of the chapter, until you get to the last verse, is speaking about Assyria and what happened to it. Then, the last verse makes application to Pharaoh and Egypt. So everything spoken about the glorious past of Assyria is spoken with application to the present audience (Pharaoh and Egypt) in mind.

First, we are told the background of the once great Assyrian empire:

3Consider Assyria, once a cedar in Lebanon, with beautiful branches overshadowing the forest; it towered on high, its top above the thick foliage. 4The waters nourished it, deep springs made it grow tall; their streams flowed all around its base and sent their channels to all the trees of the field. 5So it towered higher than all the trees of the field; its boughs increased and its branches grew long, spreading because of abundant waters. 6All the birds of the air nested in its boughs, all the beasts of the field gave birth under its branches; all the great nations lived in its shade. 7It was majestic in beauty, with its spreading boughs, for its roots went down to abundant waters. 8The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it, nor could the pine trees equal its boughs, nor could the plane trees compare with its branches—no tree in the garden of God could match its beauty. 9I made it beautiful with abundant branches, the envy of all the trees of Eden in the garden of God. (Ezekiel 31:3-9)

Assyria was once a great empire, like a tree providing shade for all living creatures. This may sound familiar.  This may sound familiar. Recall Jesus' description of the kingdom of God. We will get to that, but first let's examine this chapter as it provides the background for Jesus' comments.  Assyria was once an empire which provided safety and security for all those who dwelt in it. People put their confidence in, their trust in the shade it provided. Keep in mind that just as shade protects and provides, so this nation, in its heyday, in all its beauty, was a source of protection and provision.
Then, to remind Pharaoh of just how great Assyria was before its fall, the comparison is made to all the trees of the garden of Eden. Eden, of course, is the picture of perfection. Yet, if nations are trees, then Assyria, as a tree, is unmatched even in that greatest of tree gardens—Eden. It is as if to say, “If Assyria wasn't exempt from what befell it, neither are you, Egypt.”

Secondly, we are told that Assyria was lifted up in pride and therefore was cast down. Here is a symbolic description of its fall:

11I handed it over to the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness. I cast it aside, 12and the most ruthless of foreign nations cut it down and left it. Its boughs fell on the mountains and in all the valleys; its branches lay broken in all the ravines of the land. All the nations of the earth came out from under its shade and left it. (Ezekiel 31:11-12)

The empires of the world may be a source of protection and provision, but they won't last forever. When lifted up in pride, they will fall. Why? For just like every other nation, every other tree, everything in this world is destined for the grave. (Ezekiel 31:16-17)

Finally the question is posed to Pharaoh and all his mighty armies:

Which of the trees of Eden can be compared with you in splendor and majesty? Yet you, too, will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth below; you will lie among the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword. (Ezekiel 31:18)

What is the message to Pharaoh? No man and no nation is so great that it will escape the destiny of every tree—even the trees of Eden. Every nation, every empire, every emperor will end up in the earth below. Everyone stands in desperate need of resurrection.

Jesus presents an alternate source of protection and provision in Mark 4:30-32.

30"What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?   31It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade."

Jesus, knowing our propensity to find our security and provision in earthly structures pointed us in another direction. Jesus pointed us to the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the only kingdom which will not end up in “the earth below.” It is the kingdom, as we read in Daniel 7:14, which will last forever. And the message to everyone of us, from Ezekiel 31, and clarified by Christ Himself, is that every earthly kingdom makes a lousy source of security and provision for it will end up buried in the rubble of the earth, buried in decay. Yet there is a kingdom to which we can look for security and provision: the Kingdom of God. And that kingdom is a kingdom in which we can truly rest in its shade. We come to know from Jesus' teaching that the kingdom of God is the kingdom which transcends the grave, for it exists on the other side of the grave. And the kingdom of God is centered in the King, Jesus Christ.

In a day when many are finding themselves exposed because of recession and fear of the future, this chapter raises important questions for us. Where are you looking for safety and provision? So many look to a new president, a new congress, or new leaders to solve the problems. But even they will make lousy trees to rest in. But there is a tree which provides the shade we need.

IN CHRIST ALONE my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

No comments:

Post a Comment