Journey inside the pages of Scripture to meet a personal God who enters individual lives and begins a creative work from the inside out. Shaped with the individual in mind, Immersion Bible Studies encourage simultaneous engagement both with the Word of God and with the God of the Word to become a new creation in Christ.
Immersion Bible Studies, inspired by a fresh translation—the Common English Bible—stand firmly on Scripture and help readers explore the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs of their personal faith. More importantly, they’ll be able to discover God’s revelation through readings and reflections.
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About the Author
Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III is Pastor, Hope United Methodist Church, Southfield, Michigan. He received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University and Doctor of Ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary. Dr. Stewart has held numerous administrative and teaching positions in the Illinois and Michigan areas. He is the author of many published articles in The Chicago Daily News and Journal of Religious Thought.
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Immersion Bible Studies: Ezekiel, Daniel
By Carlyle Fielding Stewart III, Marvin W. Cropsey
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Finally Comes the Prophet: The Call and Commissioning of Ezekiel
Claim Your Story
One minute, two children are happily playing; the next minute, they are roiling in such a noisy conflict that their mother runs over to see whatever is the matter. She asks each child, "What is the matter with you? Why can't you two play nicely and get along?" Then comes the punishment. Mother says, "Since you can't follow the rules and behave yourselves, you have to go to your rooms and consider what you have done." The children are separated and left alone.
When a teenage student and a school chum are planning a report for a science or history class, they disagree about some fact or about their duties. Heat, not light, comes from the debate. Anger mounts. Neither one wants to give in, so one storms away, leaving both to wonder what just happened and how they separated from their best friend. Each student is isolated.
Since we all—even adults—have difficulty growing up, we continue to have occasions when the pieces to the puzzle of life just don't fit. Perhaps God hasn't answered a fervent prayer and we are angry and confused. Surely God can see the wisdom and righteousness of whatever we asked. How can God be so insensitive and uncaring? You are exiled from God's presence.
Then comes the question, "What do I do now?"
Enter the Bible Story
The Reality of Exile: But How Can We Sing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land?
The story of Ezekiel occurred during a time of crisis in the lives of God's people. The noise and trouble of their exile eclipsed their memory of God's repeated promises of hope.
Two basic types of crises confronted them. There was a personal crisis, which was related to a person's dislocation and estrangement from other individuals in his or her community. Such crises often resulted in personal alienation and insecurity, which ruptured one's vital connections to others in the community, including family. The second was a social crisis that affected groups of people. Thus, certain groups were disconnected from other groups based on race, class, religious beliefs and practice, ethnicity, gender, nationality, or some other factor.
Whether individual or collective, personal or social, the result of such alienation is a form of exile where individuals and social groups need to find ways to belong in the larger society. A central purpose of human community is to create and find places to be somebody, to experience the feeling of home in society, and to establish a sense of belonging in the world. Exile can be the prolonged condition of isolation from others, stemming from these various forms of crises. Persons in exile long to hear words of hope and to receive compassion from others. They desire spokespersons who can nurture their needs and address their ultimate concerns as human beings. Justice and righteousness are at the heart of their concerns.
The need for belonging often requires a messenger who will speak on behalf of the exiled and the oppressed, a person or persons who will tell their story and help them move beyond the various forms of estrangement that have been imposed upon them and insulated them from the sources of life and hope in society. The messenger often speaks to their deep pain and suffering and holds before them the possibilities of restoration and renewal that mark the beginning of their return to God. We all long for home. All we need is someone to remind us of home and lead us back.
The Jews in the Book of Ezekiel experienced personal and social crisis because of their three deportations to Babylon. Among the first deportees was Daniel in 605 B.C. The second deportation included Ezekiel in 597 B.C. The third, to which Ezekiel ultimately pointed, was in 586 B.C. when Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed. Estranged from their homeland, the Jews felt additional alienation because their exile was thought to be punishment from God for turning away and disobeying God's commandments. Deeply forlorn because of their new social situation, the people were in desperate need of a messenger who would give them hope.
Our lesson today introduces us to Ezekiel, the messenger called and commissioned to speak warning and hope to the people of God. Ezekiel heard the word of God through divine visions and delivered the messages to a people in exile. Much of that message recounts the many ways the people have sinned against God and have been led astray by various leaders. After years in exile, the people finally heard from God through Ezekiel, whose ultimate message of hope and restoration gave them confidence in the future.
God desires our spiritual restoration. God provides redemption and hope for the people of God, which is a message often lost in the confusion and mayhem of our various forms of personal and social alienation. God loves us and wants to restore us to a time when God's name and presence were honored and people were strengthened and renewed because of that divine intervention.
On the one hand, the Jewish people were individually estranged from God due to their personal abandonment of faith. On the other hand, they were alienated collectively as a faith community by their theological and geographical displacement from the familiar moorings of their beloved faith traditions and cherished homeland. They might have asked questions like, How can we sing the songs of Zion when we have lost our God and our land? How can we sing songs of hope and redemption when our lives have been drowned out by the dissonance of exile? How can we sing the songs of our future restoration when our captors devastated us?
The Book of Ezekiel tells the story of a priest, prophet, and street preacher called by God to address both the personal and the social crises of his community. The people longed to go back home. But as novelist Thomas Wolfe reveals, once separated—whether from Lybia Hill or the City of David—"you can't go home again." Some of the people adjusted to life in exile and lost their songs of joy. They would never sing happily or expectantly again. Many had lost hope of ever returning home. Others dismissed their right of return. Others completely capitulated themselves to their situation and accepted it as a permanent state of defeat. Still others held out hope for restoration and redemption but remained a silent minority.
The primary question then is, "How could we possibly sing the LORD's song on foreign soil?" (Psalm 137:4). If we can recapture our ability to sing the songs of Zion, we can lift our spirits beyond the immediate miseries of exile to new visions of God's future redemption and restoration. How can we have hope and joy when we have lost everything familiar to us such as our faith, our freedom, our future, our property, our possessions, and our promises? We have been robbed not only of our dignity but also our sense of "somebodiness" as a promised people.
The task that was assigned to Ezekiel was to prophesy to the exiles of Judah, who had been carried away into captivity in distant Babylon. It was an audience close to despair, asking why this disaster had come on them and where God was in the middle of their personal holocaust.
Ezekiel also had to juxtapose these oracles with a message of redemption and salvation for a people who had almost lost all hope of ever being restored by God. He had to remind the people that even though they felt abandoned and alone, God is still close to them and still determined to save and restore them. Even though he was delivering the message of God, the prophet risked danger to his own life because the people were comfortable in their estranged condition and might be unreceptive to his message.
Tamara Eskenazi describes exile as not simply being homeless; exile means knowing that you do have a home, but the home has been taken over by enemies. It means having deep roots in one's homeland but being taken from home, carried far away, and exposed to the cold and pain in an alien world. Exile means knowing where you are but lamenting that you can't go back home, not yet. God called Ezekiel because God desires to meet people where they are, which is often at their point of greatest need. God's word is creative and powerful and moves the people from exile toward redemption and salvation. Knowing this, the exiles could sing the Lord's song in a strange land if they had faith in God's redemption and deliverance.
Living as a Christian in modern society can be a form of exile because of the feelings of aloneness and our disconnection from the trappings of modern culture. We lose hope of ever belonging in the world, yet we know God loved the world. We see these various forms of exile in various faith communities, in the modern church, and in the larger society. Katheryn Pfisterer Darr reminds us that "Ezekiel 37:11 attests to the sense of resignation experienced by at least some of the exiles after years in Babylonia: 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' We should not suppose that all of the deportees experienced the same reactions throughout the entire exilic period. While some clung with tenacity to their distinct ethnic identity, others probably assimilated into Babylonian culture rapidly. While some struggled mightily to maintain faith in Yahweh, others probably shifted their devotion to Babylonian deities."
By recalling our own feelings of estrangement or feelings of pain, isolation, and discomfort, we can sense what being in exile really means and get a sense of the exilic mindsets and feelings of the people of Ezekiel's time. They were estranged from their homeland, their religious traditions, their families, and their communities. Thus, they were cut off from the vitalizing forces that make for human wholeness and completeness. Ezekiel 37:11 says, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished." However, you can find hope and faith that God still has the power to redeem and restore the people.
The Calling and First Vision of Ezekiel: God Gets Ezekiel's Attention with a Divine Vision Plan
God called and commissioned Ezekiel to speak urgently to the problems leading to and resulting from their exile in Babylon. The messenger must vigorously speak to the theological and practical reasons for their exile. He must describe the nature of their alienated condition and how it dissipates their hope and increases their crisis of faith, causing them to turn inward and not outward toward God. He must proclaim God's corrective action to that condition and warn them of the disastrous results if that counsel goes unheeded. He must help them claim the redemptive possibilities of God amid their own human disabilities.
God was concerned about the people. God's love for them inspired God's search for and restoration of them. However sinful the people of God became, God did not delight in their prolonged estrangement and exile. Theologian Karl Barth reminds us that God finds us where we are, in our isolation and brokenness, the disruptions caused by our sinfulness. Theologian and preacher John Wesley believed that he had to take the message of Christ's salvation to the people and not eternally wait for them to seek it amid the woeful conditions of their social and economic alienation.
Wham! Out of nowhere came the divine vision plan. Weird and wonderful images from driving storms, great clouds flashing fire, four living creatures each with four faces and four wings set in a giant wheel, burst on Ezekiel with dazzling power that startled and throttled him. Even in this strange land, amid the seductive and captivating idolatries of Babylonian culture and power, God called forth such dazzling Mesopotamian pyrotechnics to subdue the people's complacency and remind them that God still had jurisdiction and could call down thunder and rain. God even burst open the heavens to remind the people of the universal reach of God's true sovereignty and power.
Do you actually think that I would forget about you, asked God in Ezekiel's vision, that I am not paying attention to you? That I had disappeared completely from the face of this earth? You are still my people! I am still your God! There will be justice and righteousness. I will return to you and you will return to me.
God got the messenger's attention through this powerful divine vision. The messenger was both awed and amazed at God's artistic vision breaking in upon him like catastrophic storms and responds favorably to it. Now he must awaken and respond to this vision. The messenger realizes that it is no longer business as usual; God was seeking to restore God's people, hoping and trusting that they had learned the lessons of their past.
Ezekiel's Commissions: Ezekiel's Engagement With a Divine Action Plan
To clearly hear God's radical calling through visions while in exile was not only shocking but also fascinating. The prophet heeded the call through the radical first vision and prepared to receive a word from God that he must take to the exiles.
The commission confirmed the authenticity of Ezekiel's divine calling as a spokesperson for God and confirmed the moral and spiritual authority in which the prophet walked and spoke as a servant of God to the exiles. If the divine vision involved a radical awakening to seeing and hearing from God about the nature of the prophetic assignment to the exiles, the divine commission confirmed his active engagement and participation in telling the people what God wants them to hear. Ezekiel was chosen for this prophetic task, and this commissioning involved three basic actions:
1) Standing on Your Feet and Listening to God: "Human one, stand on your feet, and I'll speak to you" (Ezekiel 2:1).
2) Walking With Your Feet to the People of God: "I'm sending you to the Israelites, a traitorous and rebellious people. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. I'm sending you to their hardheaded and hardhearted descendants" (verses 3-4).
3) Staying on Your Feet and Speaking the Truth of God: "Whether they listen or whether they refuse, since they are a household of rebels, they will know that a prophet has been among them" (verse 5).
God gave the prophet a strategic plan in the form of a vision. Now the strategic plan must be followed by an action plan formed by the prophet and the people.
Stand on Your Feet and Listen to God!
"Human one, stand on your feet, and I'll speak to you" (Ezekiel 2:1).
The moment of reckoning was upon Ezekiel. He saw the vision. He heard God's voice. Standing on one's feet meant assuming a vertical position of physical, moral, and spiritual uprightness and holy boldness; it meant taking a position of readiness to hear and receive that word. Standing on one's feet suggested an astute alertness to hear from God at a time when the oppression of exile had lowered the people's standing, slowed their response time and urgency in crisis, dulled their hearing, and crushed them to ground level. They could no longer bear the weight of being a chosen people. They said, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished" (37:11). They could neither live nor move.
Standing on one's feet in response to God and listening to learn what words of God to speak to the people required discipline and suggests that the prophet must have been among those who would be ready, steadfast, and forthright in doing God's work. No more lying down in the complacency of captivity! The prophet stood up and stood out to be counted to bring a word of hope and redemption to a people forlorn, and the people stood up in response to the prophet's message if they were to receive God's redemption and salvation. Standing up and listening to God was an important step in God's commissioning of Ezekiel. God sought to positively transform the woeful conditions of God's people into a spiritual, relational, and practical uprightness where they could once again stand tall in God's and their own eyes.
Walk With Your Feet to the People of God!
"I'm sending you to the Israelites, a traitorous and rebellious people. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. I'm sending you to their hardheaded and hardhearted descendants" (2:3-4). Divine action plans for redemption and salvation require action heroes and heroines willing to go to the people and put forth the divine message even to ears that do not want to hear. Jesus said, "Let the person who has ears, hear" (Matthew 11:15). We must therefore go where we would not otherwise go and do what we would otherwise not do. Ezekiel's calling involved acts of hearing, seeing, and interpreting the visions of God. Ezekiel's commissioning involved standing, hearing, going, and speaking the word of God to the people of God.
Stay on Your Feet and Speak the Truth of God!
"And you will say to them: The LORD God proclaims. Whether they listen or whether they refuse, since they are a household of rebels, they will know that a prophet has been among them" (Ezekiel 2:4-5).
Speaking for God in conditions of exile often required standing up, confronting, and "care-fronting" the people of God about the truths of their devastating behavior and condition. Speaking the truth in love to worldly powers can be a difficult and awesome task. Such speaking demands not only physical action but also moral courage. Silence is neither advised nor allowed when making prophetic utterances to those in exile. When it is time to speak, the prophet must speak because he or she represents not only the freedom and autonomy of God but also God's inestimable love and concern for God's people.
How does one reconcile the language of judgment and condemnation contained in the prophetic oracles of proclamation with the language of hope and reconciliation that gets the people's attention, invites them to God, and heals their previous sins and wounds?
Excerpted from Immersion Bible Studies: Ezekiel, Daniel by Carlyle Fielding Stewart III, Marvin W. Cropsey. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsImmersion Bible Studies,
1. Finally Comes the Prophet: The Call and Commissioning of Ezekiel,
2. "The Fire This Time!",
3. Let Neighboring Nations Beware!,
4. "I Want You Back!",
5. From the Outside Looking In to the Inside Looking Out: You've Got to Serve Somebody!,
6. The Limits of Earthly Kingdoms and the Power of a Sovereign God,
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