Most people avoid teaching from Ezekiel. Not only is it a book full of strange and (sometimes) disturbing imagery, but it also presents a vivid depiction of a God that won’t fit neatly into the categories we typically have in mind for him. It’s because of these reasons that Ezekiel is an important book to study. But don’t be afraid. Creative Bible Lessons in Ezekiel makes it a little easier to bring this bizarre and often confusing book to your students. Following the history of the bestselling Creative Bible Lessons series, this book introduces some new elements into your teaching. Because Ezekiel is so unfamiliar to many people, there is extensive background for leaders, including research from several commentaries and other books. There’s enough information there for you to understand the passage enough to be able to teach it confidently. In addition to the background, you’ll find a combination of illustrations, activities, movie clips, and song suggestions to help bring the passage to life. Each section ends with a journaling exercise for your students to make the passage personal. Since many adults steer clear of this imaginative book of the Bible, this resource will not only help you teach your students—you’ll learn something yourself! Help your students uncover this book, and lead them closer to the God of Ezekiel—the God who surprises us frequently and loves us completely.
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Creative Bible Lessons in EzekielAncient Revelations for a Postmodern Generation
By Anna Aven Howard
ZondervanCopyright © 2007 Youth Specialties
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHEN GOD IS WITH YOU SESSION 1: EZEKIEL 1: ROMANS 1:6
If we get a grasp on who God is, it will greatly affect how we live. Ezekiel saw an overwhelming vision of God, received a commission as a prophet, and went on to spread God's word among his people. We are called just as Ezekiel was to understand who God is and spread the message to our people.
Blank paper and markers or colored pencils for each student
Bibles (or a copy of Ezekiel 1 printed out for each student who may not have direct access to a Bible during the session)
Bruce Almighty (NOTE: I recommend clips from this film in three different sessions. If you think you'll use these clips, I highly recommend buying the film. Plus, you could use it for an optional movie-and-discussion night at some point during the series.)
"Facedown" by Matt Redman (Facedown, 2004)
SECTION 1: BACKGROUND FOR LEADERS
God appeared to Ezekiel when Ezekiel was in exile with his people in Babylon. That means God himself was in exile. God was, in effect, homeless in that he had allowed the people so much freedom that they had kicked him out of their hearts and out of the temple, thus severing the relationship from their side. And what does God do? He follows them. They reject God, and God follows them into exile. As we go through the book of Ezekiel, God goes to great lengths to get the attention of those he loves to keep them from continuing in their self-destructive behavior.
The fact that God followed them into exile doesn't mean there are no consequences to walking out of a relationship with God. But God allows those consequences. For the Israelites, the consequence was exile. However, here's the amazing-grace part: God had every right to stand in the promised land waving good-bye as the Israelites were marched off into exile, and then like the wounded lover, sit there with his arms crossed and wait for the Israelites to try to fight their way out of the mess they'd gotten themselves into and come crawling back to him (Ezekiel 6:9). God could have, but he didn't.
Ezekiel's adventure takes place in the land of the Babylonians, far from his native home. He and his people had been carried off into exile because of their disobedience to God. When the people stopped following God, God lifted his hand of protection, and the Israelites' enemies conquered them. In this case, the Babylonians had taken some of the people off into exile and left some of them in Israel after conquering them. This was a tactic to demoralize the people and spread them so far apart that they would be unlikely to attempt a revolt.
So that's the background for why we find this young man Ezekiel standing alone by the Chebar River one balmy day, July 31, 593 BC, somewhere in his 30th year (1:1), when God shows up. We can only imagine what that must have been like. We have to wonder what Ezekiel was thinking. He was carried off into captivity because of the actions of his fellow citizens of Israel, and now, just at the time when he should have been taking over responsibilities as a priest at the temple of God, here he is, by himself, hanging out by the river.
You see, Ezekiel was a Levite, the son of a priest (verse 3), and thus destined to be a priest himself. Young men were initiated into the priesthood at the age of 30, but here in a foreign land with no temple, there's no way for Ezekiel to carry out his calling and role in the community.
Or was there? Ezekiel and his fellow captives were already entering their fifth year of captivity (verse 2). God could have come for his chat with Ezekiel before now. And yet, he shows up in Ezekiel's 30th year. Coincidence? Could it be coincidence that God shows up to give Ezekiel his calling at the time when Ezekiel should have been initiated into the priesthood? Consider this: Even when you're in captivity, whether as a consequence of your own actions or a result of other people's choices, God hasn't forgotten his plan for you or what he has called you to do-and God can show up, right there in the middle of your captivity, and go right on fulfilling his promise for your life.
And not only is God showing up to initiate Ezekiel into his calling exactly when he was supposed to be initiated, but God also appeared to Ezekiel in captivity! This is a God who doesn't sit in a temple and pout because his people have disobeyed him and gotten themselves carried off into captivity; this is a God who comes to his people, comes to us-even in the midst of the consequences of our own actions-all because he wants to call us back to himself.
GOD IS OTHER AND YET DESIRES A RELATIONSHIP WITH US
In Ezekiel 1, God is above the platform, above these strange creatures, and is the source of all the strange light and sounds that Ezekiel sees and hears. And yet, God appears in the form or shape of a human (verse 26), which Ezekiel can glimpse beyond all of this "otherness." This is a beautiful picture of the majesty and splendor of our God, combined with his continual desire to draw broken and sinful humans back to himself. We're used to thinking of this in terms of Jesus dying on the cross for us, and of course, that's the event that enables us to be reconciled to God; but this chapter in Ezekiel, while probably the most dramatic, is just one of many instances throughout the Bible where God goes to great lengths to communicate to his people. Not only do we see God here in a form that Ezekiel can recognize, but after this vision God comes close enough that Ezekiel is completely overwhelmed, falls on his face in worship, and hears a voice speaking-God speaking-directly to him. And this God is still speaking to you and to me as we study his Word, begin to recognize his heartbeat, and learn to tune our ears to his whisperings so that we, too, with Ezekiel, can glimpse a majesty and glory beyond anything we could have imagined-a glory and a majesty that will sweep us off our feet as we realize this is our God, and he is madly in love with us.
SECTION 2: MAKING IT LIVE FOR YOUR STUDENTS
Put blank paper and copies of Ezekiel chapter 1 on each seat. Place containers of colored markers or colored pencils where your students have easy access to them.
Say: Close your eyes. Picture in your head all the things you're hearing. Then read all of Ezekiel 1 out loud to them. Draw your interpretation of what you just heard. Have them hang on to their pictures for a minute until the group gets more into the guts of the chapter.
DIGGING IN: HOW BIG IS YOUR GOD?
Ask: What kinds of questions have you had about God? Make sure you fill in some of your own questions about God when the students have finished.
Is it safe to say that some things about God are hard to understand? What kinds of things? If students don't bring these things up, you might want to add things that would make entire sessions in themselves, such as how God can exist in three persons and still be one God. Or try adding 100 percent God and 100 percent man to equal 100 percent Jesus.
Say: Could it actually be comforting that we can't understand God?
I mean, how many of us can completely understand ourselves?
Have you ever been upset about something and weren't sure why? (Caution: Don't let them tell stories; this is just to get them thinking about the fact that they don't understand themselves.)
If we can't even understand ourselves, would we want to worship a God who we could understand?
Would that kind of God be even smaller than we are?
There are mysteries about God, certainly, but it's these mysteries that play a big part in making us want to worship God. In fact, Ezekiel's vision made him fall flat on his face in response to such awesome glory and majesty.
Ask: What can your God do? If they don't answer right away, say something like: We're talking about God, our God, and yet I think we place limits on God because we don't leave room for him to do things in our lives. Can God speak to us? (Yes!) Heal? (Yes!) Perform miracles? (Yes!) Raise someone from the dead? (Yes!) But how often we experience those things may depend on us.
NOTE: It's important here not to fall into the trap of making it sound as though God acting in someone's life is entirely up to the person or how much faith that person has. The fact of the matter is, we can't understand God, and thus sometimes we may believe fully and be fully open to God doing something-say, healing a disease-and yet God doesn't, and the person dies. That's hard to reconcile when that person has suffered through so much and God doesn't seem to be responding. It's easy to blame the person and his supposed lack of faith when God doesn't respond as we think he should. The truth is, however, that God doesn't heal one person because she has more faith than the next person, and God doesn't refuse to heal another because he lacks faith. The bottom line is, we can't understand everything God does, but we can trust him.
THE KIND OF GOD WE HAVE
Explain: If you look at the deities of the surrounding nations and compare them with Ezekiel's vision, there are some striking reasons why Ezekiel saw what he saw. For starters, at that time in the surrounding nations, the people held a very strong concept of a land/people/deity triangle. In their view, if the deity's power was to remain intact, this triangle had to be inseparable. Therein lies another view of why nations carried the people they conquered into exile: They were breaking the land/people/deity connection. The land belonged to the deity, and the people worshiped the local god or goddess in order to have good crops, blessings on their lives, and so forth. Out of the land, the deity had no power over the people, so if you can remove a people from their land, you can take them away from their god.
But not this God. Not Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Whether his people realized it or not-and most of them probably didn't-this God was not tied to the land. This point is brought home when he appears to Ezekiel in this chapter.
What are some of the things that stood out to you when you heard this chapter and as we drew what we heard? Let's look at what you guys drew ... Have your students explain their drawings. If your group is large, you can have them turn to people around them and explain, and then you can highlight the main things that got repeated, or you could call for some volunteers who would represent a good cross section of your group.
What do you suppose is the significance of the wheels? Wheels = Motion
Notice the wheels don't turn, and yet the platform above them moves wherever God wants it to. What does this tell us about God? God is free to come from wherever he likes and go wherever he likes. The four wheels speak of the four winds or the four points of the compass, demonstrating that God can go wherever he wants.
List some observations about the four living creatures. Each of the four living creatures has four faces.
As the students list the faces, ask: What's significant about these faces? If they get stuck, explain each face as a student brings it up.
Human face: Human beings are the only ones created in God's image, with the ability to create and reason. This is the face that faces outward.
Lion face: Say: List some of the things we know about lions. Make sure you also highlight these things if they don't get said: The lion is a fierce beast that was a symbol of strength and courage. It was also considered sort of the king of wild beasts. The lion is the face on the right.
Ox face: Say: What do you know about oxen? If there's a "king" among cattle, then it's the ox, and the ox was a valuable domestic animal that frequently served as a symbol of both fertility and divinity in the surrounding cultures. The ox is the face on the left.
Eagle face: Say: Tell me some characteristics of eagles. The face on the back, then, is an eagle, and the eagle is a swift bird, likewise considered sort of a king of birds.
What is the main adjective used to describe these creatures? It's important to note that these are the four living creatures.
What does this tell us about God? This God is a God of life.
Explain: With these four supernatural beings that display the majesty of God, not one of them is an inanimate representation, nor are they meant to be worshiped-a far cry from the stone and wood images that represented the deities of the surrounding countries.
Summarize: So in this vision, God has clearly shown himself to be not only entirely mobile, entirely different from people, and completely removed from the other deities of the surrounding nations, but also completely over the created order in that the living creatures are a unique hybrid of all creation because they represent both humans and the different orders of animals.
Say: Look at your drawings one more time.
Ask: Is there anything you see in this passage that's different from how you're used to viewing God? Is there anything that surprises you? The idea to draw out is that Ezekiel presents us with a picture of God that's not exactly the grandparent upstairs we sometimes imagine.
If the students get stuck, you could say something like: This God isn't strictly the "buddy" God whom we often make him out to be. But while he's entirely "other" and full of awesome majesty and glory, that doesn't make him the mean, judgmental God who's out to punish sinners whom we sometimes characterize him as. No, this completely powerful, divine God is so in love with his people that he has followed them into exile.
WHERE DOES YOUR GOD LIVE?
Now explain exile by saying something like: The people of Israel had turned away from God, and by doing that, they took themselves out from under his hand of protection. And so they ended up getting conquered by the Babylonians and carried off to a place that was far away from their home. Ezekiel is among these exiles when God shows up.
Where do we usually picture God living? A few students will likely say God lives in heaven.
Where is God in this passage? In the middle of his people. If they get stuck, say: Here in Ezekiel it's very clear that God wants to be among his people. This is a living, active, and present God who is with the people not only in a time of hardship-which exile certainly was-but in a time of hardship that they themselves had caused!
We have some sort of concept that God is watching, but what difference does it make to know that he's not just watching, but he's right here?
Then say: The Israelites were in Babylon because of their sin against God. They had turned their backs on him and were worshiping other gods. Just as bad as infidelity in a marriage, idol worship was the Israelites effectively cheating on God. So God lifted his hand of protection and allowed the Israelites to be carried off into exile. The exile was a direct consequence of the peoples' choices to worship other gods.
But God is there with his people even when they're in exile ...
Now, someone tell me in your own words, what is exile? Get a student or two to summarize back all the big concepts you just explained to them.
So, if exile is the result of the people's sin and God shows up in the middle of exile, what does this tell us about God? This means God is with us even in the consequences of our actions.
Why would God want to be with us even in the consequences of what we've done? Because he loves us and wants to call us back to him.
Explain: The consequences of the Israelites' actions don't disappear, and yet God is right there in the middle of them. This is a God who is so radically in love with his people that he will go into exile to try to reestablish the broken relationship that got them there in the first place. A God in exile ... where else do you find that?
MOVIE CLIP: BRUCE ALMIGHTY-HOW FAR DO YOU HAVE TO GO TO OUTRUN GOD?
Ask your students who have seen the movie to explain why Bruce got fired. Make sure to summarize their answers by saying: Bruce was discontented with his job and with his life, and when he didn't get what he wanted, he vented on live television and got himself fired.
Ask: Was Bruce responsible for what happened to him?
Set up the clip by saying: At this point in the film, Bruce has accused God of picking on him and ruining his life, saying God is like the mean kid with a magnifying glass frying the legs off of ants. Here's what happens next.
Excerpted from Creative Bible Lessons in Ezekiel by Anna Aven Howard Copyright © 2007 by Youth Specialties. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsHOW TO USE THIS BOOK (AND WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU START)....................13
SESSION 1 WHEN GOD IS WITH YOU (EZEKIEL 1; ROMANS 1:6)....................19
SESSION 2 THE WATCHMAN MENTALITY (EZEKIEL 3:16-27; 1 PETER 2:9; ROMANS 15:16)....................31
SESSION 3 HOW MUCH GOD CARES (EZEKIEL 4:1-8)....................41
SESSION 4 DRIVING GOD AWAY (EZEKIEL 8; PSALM 139:23-24; ROMANS 12:1)....................51
SESSION 5 WHAT GOD WANTS (EZEKIEL 11:14-21; PSALM 139:1-12)....................63
SESSION 6 ARE THERE IDOLS IN YOUR HEART? (EZEKIEL 14:1-5; 1 CORINTHIANS 6:19-20)....................75
SESSION 7 YOU SHOULD BE DEAD (EZEKIEL 18; JOHN 3:16; ROMANS 8:28)....................87
SESSION 8 CONTRACTS, COVENANTS, AND CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (EZEKIEL 20:1-29, 44; ROMANS 3:26)....................97
SESSION 9 WHEN GOD COMES LOOKING FOR YOU (EZEKIEL 34:11-16; 36:22-28; PSALM 139)....................107
SESSION 10 CAN MY DEAD LIFE LIVE AGAIN? (EZEKIEL 37:1-14; PSALM 139:13-16)....................117
SESSION 11 RESTORATION TIME (EZEKIEL 39:21-29; PSALM 139:13-16)....................127
SESSION 12 SWIMMING LESSONS WITH GOD (EZEKIEL 47:1-12; JOHN 7:38; 10:10)....................135