Week 37 Devotion
One of the first things that comes to mind when we think of the OT prophets is the role that they played in announcing the judgment of God. These men were preachers and it was their responsibility to warn the people and also to call them to repent of their sin. But there is more to their ministry than the announcement of sin and judgment. In fact, this week as we finish the book of Ezekiel and read through Joel and Daniel we will see a strong note of hope round out the message of these men.
Let’s jump right in by looking at how the book of Ezekiel comes to a close.
The Book of Ezekiel…
In the 33 chapters of Ezekiel the prophet had the unenviable task of pointing out the sins of Judah that brought about the exile into Babylon. This exile would have been one of the most horrendous things to happen to God’s people since their captivity in Egypt, but in chapter 33 it gets worse. In chapter 33 the prophet meets a refugee who just arrived in the city of Babylon and he gives the prophet the bad news that the city of Jerusalem has finally been destroyed and you can imagine that this would have brought terrible grief to Ezekiel.
But in the next chapter things begin to change. In chapter 34, the book shifts from the judgment of God upon Israel and the nations, to the hope of God for Israel and the nations. In Ezekiel 34:20-24, God declares that He, Himself, is going to come and rule over the people. He is going to rescue them and He will even set up over them a king, like His servant David, to shepherd them.
But Ezekiel can’t understand how God can take a dead nation and restore them. That’s when God shows Ezekiel another vision. This time Ezekiel is standing in a valley filled with dry bones, the bones of God’s dead people, and in this vision God shows the prophet that He is going to make these bones live. The word of God is going to come and make these bones come back together, stand up and will clothe them with flesh. Then the Spirit or breath is going to come and restore life to these once dead bones.
God is going to restore His people, give them new life, raise them up and give them a new king. In chapter 36, God says, “I am going to give my people a new heart and I will put my own Spirit within them so that they can obey my word.” More than a dozen times in chapter 36 we read God saying, “I will…” do this.
God is not done with His people. He has a plan to restore them to life, to remake their hearts, to defeat their enemies and will even restore the temple. In chapters 40-48 we see this detailed description of a bigger and better temple that God has in store. It is a temple that is larger than the one Solomon built. God will once again allow His presence to rest inside this temple and from this new temple a river will flow. This river is going to heal the world and restore it back to the way it was in the Garden of Eden, before sin entered the world.
This book began on a dark note of judgment but it ends on a bright note of hope that God is going to restore humanity and creation. He is going to dwell in the midst of His people once again.
The Book of Joel…
The book of Joel is unique among the prophetic books for a couple of reasons. Firstt, we don’t know exactly when the book was written but some of the clues in the book lead us to believe that it takes place after Israel returns from exile. Secondly, throughout the book we see the prophet Joel quoting from other prophets and from other books of the Bible. Third, this book is unique in that Joel doesn’t call the people out for their sin but rather he assumes that the people already know what they’ve done wrong.
The thing that stands out the most is the plague of locusts in chapters 1 and 2, which makes us think back to the plague of locusts that God sent into Egypt back in the book of Exodus. In the past, God sent that plague as a way to confront the evil of Pharaoh and to punish the Egyptians for their treatment of God’s people. But here in Joel the locusts are coming for Jerusalem.
A plague of locusts has the devastating power to consume in a few days the amount of grain that would feed an entire city for a year. Joel wants us to see this as the hand of God but he also wants us to see beyond the bugs. This plague is a metaphor for the foreign armies that are going to swarm Jerusalem.
The earth quakes before them;
the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining.
11 The Lord utters his voice
before his army,
for his camp is exceedingly great;
he who executes his word is powerful.
For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome;
who can endure it?
All of this imagery is meant to serve as motivation for the people to repent and Joel even joins in on the repentance. In the end, the Lord became jealous for His land and had pity on the people. In other words, he restored them and filled them with hope.
This little book explores some of the biggest and most important themes in all of Scripture. It points out that human sin has had a devastating effect upon humanity and upon the world. It shows us that God’s judgment has been seen in the past and it will be seen in the future. But it also reminds us that God’s mercy is greater than His wrath. God longs to restore His people and His creation and that is exactly what He plans to do.
One-day God will confront the evil of mankind and will bring it to an end. One-day God will restore creation and will make it to be like a new Garden of Eden. One-day God will dwell with His people and His Spirit will fill them all. This book that began with a message of destruction has ended with the promise of hope that God would right all the wrongs and make all things new again.
The Book of Daniel…
The book of Daniel takes us back to the first attack of Babylon on the city of Jerusalem because like Ezekiel, Daniel, was among the people taken prisoner during that first attack along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These four were taken into Babylon and were recruited to serve the king but these men refused to defile themselves. They refused to give up their Jewish identity and as a result the king praised them above other men.
The king even found that one of them was able to interpret dreams and that was important because they king had a dream that left him confused. The dream was all about this statue that was made of different materials and how that statue would be destroyed to make way for something new that God was going to set up.
Now, it’s probably important to point out that there are some pretty strong symbols and parallels that take place in this book and they center around three things: The dreams, the temptation and exaltation of God’s people, and the pride of wicked men. We have already seen in chapter 1 where the 4 Jewish men were told to sin against God but they refused and in the end the king exalts them.
Well, in chapter 3 we see this happen again when Daniel’s three companions are forced into the fiery furnace for not worshipping the image of the king. But they survive and in the end the king exalts them. Finally, in chapter 6 it’s Daniel’s turn and when he refuses to worship the king as God he is thrown into the lion’s den. But he survives because God protects him and the story ends with the king exalting Daniel. This theme is meant to encourage the people of God to stay faithful to him in the midst of persecution because in the end God will bless His people and exalt them.
Another theme is the dreams and what they mean. In chapter 2 we read the kings dream and what it means concerning God’s plan for the world. In chapter 7 we read of Daniel’s dream and what it means concerning God’s plan for the world. Even chapters 8-12 reveal visions of what God is going to do in the world to deal with evil, restore His people and dwell among them once more.
Finally, there is the theme of man’s pride and we see this lived out in chapters 4 and 5. In chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar becomes like a beast of the field all because of his pride and arrogant refusal to worship God rather than himself. Then in chapter 5 we read of Belshazzar whose pride results in his assassination.
This book is filled with patterns and promises. These patterns aren’t always easy to understand so it’s probably a good idea to read them with a good study bible close by. But the promises of God leave us with hope as the book comes to an end. Our hope in God is meant to motivate us to be faithful to Him and His word despite how the world may treat us and in the end we can trust that God has a plan to overcome the sin of the world and to restore His people and the world.