Are We in Danger?
“In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month … among the captives by the river of Chebar … I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1).
Have you ever thought about that? Ezekiel, the priest, had to be taken captive and weep by the rivers of Babylon, before the glory of God, in its awesome light, appeared to him. The temple was the place one would expect to see the glory of God. But Ezekiel saw it first by a river of Babylon.
However, 14 months later Ezekiel saw the glory of God again, and this time it was associated with the temple. The appearance of God and His glory was like Ezekiel had seen it earlier (Ezekiel 8:1-4). On this occasion Ezekiel was brought in spirit to the temple at Jerusalem. But Ezekiel did not enter the temple complex in the usual way. The prophet had to dig through a wall to expose the illicit activities conducted there. God “brought me to the door of the court; and … behold a hole in the wall. … When I had digged in the wall, behold a door. And he said … Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here” (Ezekiel 8:7-9).
The prophet is introduced to us in Ezekiel 1:3 as “Ezekiel the priest.” But in this next occasion he is referred to as a “son of man” (Ezekiel 8:8), perhaps to distinguish Ezekiel from the evil officiants that he was viewing. (Or perhaps to suggest that Ezekiel was in some sense a forerunner of Jesus, who commonly used the designation “son of man,” as he witnessed the sins of the leaders of Israel.)
Through this entrance that Ezekiel had digged through to find, Ezekiel saw inscribed on the wall various unclean animals and idols used by the Israelites, depicting the uncleanness of Israel’s idolatry. Ezekiel also saw seventy aged leaders of Israel with censers, in dark chambers, with unholy images (Ezekiel 8:10-12). He proceeded further and saw women weeping for the god Tammuz. Ezekiel was brought into the inner court of God’s house and found 25 men with the backs to the temple, facing east, worshipping the sun (Ezekiel 8:13-18). All of this depicted the idolatrous iniquity and violence of the Israelites, for which the judgments following in chapters 9 and 10 were visited.
Some chapters later, in Ezekiel 34, the “shepherd” leaders of Israel were again denounced and their sins enumerated. They had not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bound up the injured, allowed them clean water or fresh pasture. Instead, they had ruled harshly, brutally, for their own ends (Ezekiel 34:1-6). Even child sacrifice was among their sins. “They had slain their children to their idols … thus have they done in the midst of mine house” (Ezekiel 23:39).
Lessons in These Visions
Perhaps many brethren who study or read these passages see in them a prophecy of the spiritual waywardness of Israel during Jesus’ day, and of the spiritual waywardness of Christendom in later times. There are fitting applications there. But let us presently seek what these visions can teach us.
In Ezekiel’s visions the glorious temple, its design and measurements, capture our attention. When we have gotten all that we can from the symbolism of creatures, faces, wings, wheels, throne, fire, light, rooms, gates, and measures — all good fields for investigation — let us not overlook another side of the vision, quite grim, but equally vivid. It is about the people of those days, their standing before God, and the personal lessons intended for us. “These things … are written for our admonition” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
If there is anything in this book that we can clearly understand, it is that the glory of God is so awesome and His temple so sacred that He will not allow us to turn our backs to Him, desecrate His temple, and go unpunished. Those “who wandered from me after their idols must bear the consequences of their sin” (Ezekiel 44:10 NIV).
When the Apostle John wrote, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” perhaps John reflects a lesson from Ezekiel about idolatry (1 John 5:21). When Paul wrote, “After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock,” perhaps he remembered the warning about false shepherds from Ezekiel 34 (Acts 20:29). When Peter advised elders to not Lord it over God’s heritage, but be “ensamples to the flock,” likely he had Ezekiel 34 in mind (1 Peter 5:3). When Jesus spoke of the qualities of a good shepherd, he also may have remembered Ezekiel 34 (John 10:11-16).
All those with some responsibility to assist in shepherding the flock of God should learn from the spirit of our master, who stood against wolves, healed the wounded, strengthened the weak, searched for lost ones, and even gave his life for the flock. We are not the chief shepherd — that is Jesus — but we should be animated by his spirit. If his love is missing in our lives then we are nothing more than “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). We must be true to what we sing: “Filled with his goodness, lost in his love” (“Blessed Assurance,” Hymns of Dawn).
In 2 Corinthians 13:3,5 Paul wrote to brethren in Corinth who sought “proof of Christ speaking in me” that they should rather “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” So with each of us. We should prove ourselves, look inward, and see whether we are acting from a good heart, willing to expend ourselves in good ways toward others.
Let us dig through to see how our conduct is in the Lord’s temple, that is, among the brethren. Let us dig a hole through the wall of traditions, doctrines, institutions, rules, policies, and practices. Do we see in this some unsettling things?
What would be the right way of looking into the temple? What is the way the Spirit is taking us? Where should we dig? Before we say anything about what we see, we must address these questions first. We suggest that we take the word of God as a “light on our path,” and pray. Look for the way things should be and compare that with what we do see. The holy Spirit cannot lead us in a different path than the written word does. “They are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Consider some scriptural points respecting the temple of God, that is, the body of Christ.
! “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This is not by human preference nor to satisfy human preference, so there should be “no divisions among you” (1 Corinthians 1:10), “no schism in the body … the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Corinthians 12:25).
! God has “set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him” (1 Corinthians 12:18). “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16 NIV).
! Love suffers long, is kind, does not envy, is not proud, is well behaved, not easily provoked, thinks no evil, rejoices in the right, hopes, and endures (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). If these qualities are not exhibited while “speaking the truth,” then our activity is not “in love” as Paul advised (Ephesians 4:15).
! Each member has “different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us,” each to be used “in accordance with your faith … Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:6,10 NIV).
encouraging one another with hymns and thankful hearts, doing what is good and wholesome (Colossians 3:16, Romans 12:2). Let us not esteem to be called “Rabbi” or teacher, but glory in our true status, “all ye are brethren” (Matthew 23:8).
These are the tools by which to examine ourselves and our past conduct. If we see smaller and smaller groups, hanging on to one person, one word, one doctrine, one servant, one year, etc., yielding things precious such as brothers, sisters, children, sometimes even truth, for the sake of that one thing, then perhaps we are slipping in the proper spirit of our worship.
If we are much divided, we can suspect that something has gone wrong. Perhaps, to some extent, we have turned our backs to the sanctuary. If we see so many “pieces” of the brotherhood on the field, perhaps we should know that the Lord is telling us to “cry … howl … smite … thy thigh” (Ezekiel 21:12). Perhaps God is asking us to “eat the scroll,” imbibing the spirit of God’s word more deeply (Ezekiel 3:1-3).
If we enter what is supposed to be the temple of God and see that God can not place the members in the body to grow as it pleases Him … If Christ can not grant us gifts as he wishes and have them exercised according to the faith of brethren … If one person claims for himself all the gifts of the spirit: leader, teacher, evangelist, prophet, watcher, admonisher … If the body grows only according to his will … If in our studies there are the same authorized questions and authorized answers1 … If we see sheep beaten, going astray, and hear “this was the will of God” … If we let our children “die,” or see people looking toward eastern “spirituality” … If we see these things, we are authorized to conclude that we have got a hole and this is the indicated place to dig through the wall.
Paul said that he “came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom” but was “in weakness, and fear, and in much trembling” in care for the brethren. His purpose was that their faith not rest in the wisdom of men, but on the testimony of Christ, “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-3). Let us avoid treatises built of psychology and philosophy rather than the word of God, or else ask ourselves upon what fire was our break baked? (Ezekiel 4:15).
Let us take care that while singing “All for Jesus, all for Jesus,” we do not have our eyes upon an idol instead. If we are urged against a “destructive heresy,” let us test to see whether the concern is real, or perhaps an over-zealous charge (1 Corinthians 13:9). Let us take care, both sheep and shepherds, that descriptions in Ezekiel 34 do not apply to us. Let us feed on clean pastures, with clear water, not muddied by the trampling of others.
Have we ever thought that voting for what we like and what we like not, what we should be told and what we should be told not, may not always be the will of God and does not guarantee progress in the truth? Is it not possible that we are willingly voting our way astray?
People with the same faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ: in salvation, calling, election, glorification, resurrection, and restoration, keeping themselves apart because some believe that their interpretation of a word, a text, a shadow, a parable, suffices to warrant a separation — is this a signal to pause, and consider more carefully? “Truth has stumbled in the streets” the prophet warned (Isaiah 59:14 NIV). Might an insistence on specifics sometimes be a cause?
The Well-Known Commandment
Jesus gave us all the well-known commandment, to love each other. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). He further encouraged us, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Let us be sure that this evidence remains for others to see. “Refuse not him that speaketh … from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25).
Let us conclude with these words: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true … honest … just … pure … lovely … of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).