Sunday, 26 July 2020

The prophets and Lockdown

“I am fed up with what you have made my worship - you do not keep my laws and statues your leaders abuse the people, your hearts are far from me and I am fed up with your sacrifices – for goodness sake just stop”! 

During the “Lockdown” I have just happened to be reading the major prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah and now Ezekiel. I have been left with a real sense of resonance between what was happening in the world of the Jews at that time of approaching / impending exile, then exile itself and what is happening around us. Many of the passages are difficult to interpret and hard to understand. I read the commentaries and wonder where the people who write them find their ideas? They seem to come up with such detailed and ‘certain’ views of what is meant from such flimsy evidence.
I commented on this to Jan, my wife this morning and she said – “well just ignore that and ask the Lord to speak to you out of your reading” – so I did and this blog is made up of a few snap-shots that came to me.

As many people have reflected “Lockdown” almost overnight, caused many things to come to a sudden halt including all of our church practices. For some the response has been an immediate attempt to “get around” what has happened and find different and often innovative ways to get as near to “normal service” as possible. (The old TV notice “normal service will be resumed as soon as possible” comes to mind)! 

For others the response has been different – now that all of our normal business of running church has halted, the “noise” of daily life has lessened, and we are alone with God – where are we with Him and what has He got to say to us? This seems to reflect the cry of the Lord through the prophets paraphrased its almost like in certain chapters the Lord is saying to His people “I am fed up with what you have made my worship - you do not keep my laws and statues your leaders abuse the people, your hearts are far from me and I am fed up with your sacrifices – for goodness sake just stop”! 

In our fellowship stopping has resulted in a focus on a few simple but profound things like Jesus’s call to abide in Him (John 15) and all that this means.

Of course, we know what the response of God’s people was back in the day – they ignored His warnings and persecuted His prophets who brought the message – even when they were proved to be right. Poor Jeremiah had a hard time of it:

* He warned the people of impending invasion and they persecuted him for it, he was proved to be right but the people would not listen.
* He told the people in Jerusalem to surrender and if they did, they would come to no harm and was persecuted for it, again he was proved to be right but the people would not listen and many died.
* He told the people to settle down and accept the Babylonian rule and was persecuted for it, again he was proved to be right but the people would not listen and many died.
* The people asked Jeremiah whether they should go to Egypt and he told them “no” and was persecuted for it, again he was proved to be right and many died – and so the story goes on. 

One of Jeremiah’s problems was false prophets. I was reading Jeremiah 23 and some words caught my attention – it was Jeremiah’s complaint about the false prophets in verse 10 “their course of life is evil and their might is not right”. The verse brought me back to some lectures at college a long time ago where we were taught ''You cannot devolve (transfer to someone else) responsibility for something, and authority is the ‘right’ to do something whereas power is the ‘might’ to do something''. I have always thought that these were very powerful ideas and there they are in scripture raised by Jeremiah and then the Lord adds substance to them by spelling out what He finds wrong with the behaviour and pronouncements of these people and their prophesies.

To give an example, someone who is an appointed official or manager of a railway can legitimately stop the trains operating for a day and has the authority to do so. A disgruntled employee might sabotage the workings of the railway and prevent the trains from running – they have the power (might) to do it but not the right (authority) to do it. So, God is saying that these false prophets had the ability to speak supposedly in the name of the Lord and also had an audience of willing listeners but they had no right to do it – He had not sent them.

The warnings about false prophesy are harsh – the scripture says that time and again. God sends His prophets to warn people of the error of their ways and in mercy warn about impending or future disaster. It says that anyone who prophesies about “good things” must be watched carefully because only when these things come to pass will the prophet be exonerated and shown to have spoken with the authority of the Lord. The judgement on false prophets was stern and several are recorded to have lost their lives because of leading God’s people astray. 

During ''Lockdown'', there have been many different voices  saying different things in the Name of the Lord, giving interpretations about what is going on. We are warned to test both the spirit and the messages of those purporting to speak in the Lord's Name. These speakers also give us reason to be cautious about certain practices that are prevalent today where intention is to teach people ‘how to prophesy’.
Again, the bible warns about people prophesying what are essentially their own thoughts (even if they appear to have some face validity).

On the other hand, God made Ezekiel a watchman. In this position he was told that if he failed to warn the wicked of God’s judgement upon them and they died in their sins, he would be held responsible for their death. If he warned them yet they did not turn from their sin, he would be innocent of their blood should they die. Also, if a righteous man be taken by sin and Ezekiel failed to pass on God’s warning, he would be held accountable (he could not pass on that responsibility to others – it was his appointed task). (Ezekiel 3 v 16 – 21). Unfortunately, today we appear often to have many words but little observable results or fulfilment of what is said? People are encouraged to share without accountability and we would rather hear and speak what is acceptable and comfortable to society rather than the word of the Lord. How accountable are we for this?

In Ezekiel 6:9 the Lord reveals to Ezekiel the extent of the grief that He feels over the way that His people have abandoned Him and gone their own way: “I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from me…” and in chapter 8:6 “… do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the House of Israel commits here, to make Me go far away from my sanctuary”? The sin of the leaders was both seen and unseen (Ezekiel 8 v 12) “Have you seen what the elders of the House of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols”? Also, there were greater abominations in the Lord’s eyes – even in the inner court (Ezekiel 8:15-17) “So He brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s House; and there…. Were 25 men with their backs towards the temple of the Lord and their faces towards the East. And they were worshipping the sun towards the East”. The Lord speaks of the leaders filling the land with violence and injustice, not walking in His statutes and not executing His judgements, provoking Him to anger so that He is going to act in fury.

The consequence of this is that the Lord puts a mark on those who fear Him and “who sigh and cry over all of the abominations that are done within Jerusalem” (Ezekiel chapter 9:4). He then commands judgement on those who are not following His ways and are responsible for leading others astray, beginning with the Elders (verse 6). In chapter 10 the Glory of the Lord leaves the temple in fulfilment of what the Lord declares over the nation, the impending destruction of Jerusalem and dispersal of the Jews throughout the gentile nations. BUT in chapter 11:16-21 the Lord also speaks in this way:

“Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’ 17 “Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’ 18 “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. 19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

In this way the Lord declares a message like this (please forgive the paraphrase):

I have brought your worship to a full stop and judged you for not fulfilling your role as my people. Nonetheless, although where I am sending you there is none of the paraphernalia of your temple worship, (none of the trappings of your usual church services) I am going to be with you and I myself be to you your Holy Place. When you return, I want you to abandon / get rid of all of the stuff (detestable practices – things that have glorified people and not God?) that has caused me grief and restore rightful worship. Then I am going to get close to you, I will give you one heart (true unity), I will fundamentally change your heart into a soft, vulnerable one and pour My Spirit out upon You… Hallelujah! Grant it Lord Jesus; please work in me!

Author: Chris Pearson 

May God bless and enrich your life

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