Friday, November 22, 2013

Is Your Bible Ever Hard to Read?

Reading: Ezekiel 21–22
This is a very hard section of Scripture to read. Not because it may be longer than some are used to reading in one sitting, but because of its content. Not because the content uses a difficult vocabulary, but because of what it actually says. Not just because we are Americans and have an over emphasis on God's love as compared to his holiness or wrath, but because of what God is actually like as revealed in Scripture. Here are some examples to illustrate my point.
2Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel 3and say to her: “This is what the LORD says: I am against you. I will draw my sword from its sheath and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked. 4Because I am going to cut off the righteous and the wicked, my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north.” (Ezekiel 21:2-4)
Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.' It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 21:7)
If we were to open our Bibles for the first time to this and begin reading here and then turned and read John 3:16, it would admittedly be difficult to fit them together. The Bible is the revelation of God—not a man-made God; not the creation of the ideal by a philosopher—the self-revelation of the creator of all that is to His fallen creatures. It will necessarily be complex. It will necessarily require us to adjust our expectations and ideas of what it ought to be like.
If the statements from Ezekiel above aren't enough to justify saying that this is a hard section of Scripture to read, add these.
6"Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief.
12Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people; it is against all the princes of Israel. They are thrown to the sword along with my people. Therefore beat your breast.
14"So then, son of man, prophesy and strike your hands together. Let the sword strike twice, even three times. It is a sword for slaughter—a sword for great slaughter, closing in on them from every side. (Ezekiel 21:6, 12, 14)
First God tells Ezekiel that He is against the people of Israel and Judah; then He tells His representative, His spokesperson to groan with a broken heart and bitter grief over this. Then He confirms the certainty of the slaughter. If God asks His prophet to groan and have a broken heart it is because God Himself is groaning and has a broken heart. And yet, our God with a broken heart reaffirms His wrath:
I will pour out my wrath on you and breathe out my fiery anger against you; I will deliver you into the hands of brutal men, men skilled in destruction. (Ezekiel 21:31)
Does your understanding of God allow for this kind of complexity? Does your understanding allow for the God of Ezekiel 21 to be the God of John 3:16? If we have an understanding of God that does not allow for this, then we have a false vision of God. We must be adjusted by God's self-revelation and not continue to create God in our own image. But we must do more.
It is not enough to stop here. We cannot simply have an image of God that allows for this complexity. If we are to understand the message of the Bible we must allow God to resolve this complexity through that same self-revelation. As we continue reading in Ezekiel 21–22, we continue to read of both the wickedness of the people and how God will respond in wrath. It is not a pretty time in the history of God's people. But alas we come to a verse that helps us understand this complexity of God—a verse that points us from this complexity toward its resolution.
30I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. 31So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 22:30-31)
God was looking for an intercessor. That adds a whole new level of complexity. God is determined to pour out His wrath and is searching hard for someone to stop Him. God searched for someone to groan before Him in intercession as Moses did repeatedly for the people of Israel in the wilderness. But He found none. And so God sent an intercessor (John 3:16). God sent His Son to intercede on behalf of transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). God could not find someone to intercede.
I'm not blaming Ezekiel, the son of man (the title repeatedly assigned to him by the Lord). Ezekiel could not ultimately fulfill this intercessory role. It would require one who could bear the sin on behalf of the people. God would have to provide the Lamb (Genesis 22:8, 14). And indeed, He does (John 1:36).
What we see in Ezekiel 21–22 and many other places in Scripture is God's hatred of sin. God doesn't rejoice in pouring out His wrath on sinners. He grieves even as He pours it out. He looked for an intercessor and did not find one. So He sent His Son to intercede on our behalf. Oswald Chambers wrote,
Jesus Christ hates the sin in people, and Calvary is the measure of His hatred.”
Now God calls those whom He has redeemed through Jesus to intercede, to groan, to cry out on behalf of other transgressors. He grieves over the brokenness of humanity because of sin. He grieves because death still reigns over many. He calls us to groan inwardly even as He groans (Romans 8:23, 26). He still looks for an intercessor. Not of the ultimate type (Jesus), but those who, like Him, grieve with Him and suffer with Him for the world.
Do you have room in your life for this complex self-revelation of God? To believe in Him and to follow Him? It is a complexity that is only resolved at the cross and we are following Him only as we pick up our cross on behalf of other transgressors.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,