Week Thirty-Seven Reading Assignment:
Ezekiel 27 - Daniel 1
"Daniel is composed, in approximately equal parts, of stories and visions -- six stories (chapters 1-6) and four visions (chapters 7-12). The stories tell of souls living faithfully in obedience to God in a time of adversity. The visions are wide-screen renditions of God's sovereignty worked out among nations who couldn't care less about him. Six soul stories; four sovereignty visions... There are always some of us who want to concentrate on the soul, and others of us who want to deal with the big issues of history. Daniel is one of our primary documents for keeping it all together -- the personal and the political, the present and the future, the soul and the society."
(Eugene Peterson, The Message)
(Eugene Peterson, The Message)
This Week's Teaching Video: The Day of the Lord
Do You See What I See?
We want to give some thought this week to how God communicated His message to the prophets, as well as how those prophets communicated His word to the people. In this column, specifically, we turn to the prophets' visions.
Visions are a recurring phenomenon in the prophets. They do not belong exclu-sively to these seventeen books of the Bible, mind you, but they do represent a major way that the Lord revealed His word to these spokesmen of His. By virtue of the fact that the visions are re-ported in the prophets' books, they are clearly meant to be part of the message. One senses in most cases, however, that the visions were, first of all, for the under-standing of the prophet.
Different Bible students and scholars might categorize the visions in different ways.
As a starting place, we might distinguish between visions that are symbolic of some reality (e.g., Amos' vision of a plumb line) and visions that are a kind of supernatural peek into an otherwise invisible reality (e.g., Isaiah's call scene by the throne of God).
Also, we observe that some visions are simple (e.g., Jeremiah's branch of an almond tree), while others are highly complex (e.g., Ezekiel's vision of "the likeness of the appearance of the glory of the Lord").
Some prophetic visions are insights into the present (e.g., Ezekiel's peek into the defilement of the temple) and others are glimpses into the future (e.g., Daniel's vision of a ram and a goat).
The prophets' visions are evidence of the versatility of God. As a group, they represent yet another way that He is willing and able to communicate with His people. And, taken individually, they illustrate the breadth of all that He has to communicate.
Show and Tell
We want to give some thought this week to how God communicated His message to the prophets, as well as how those prophets communicated His word to the people. In this column, specifically, we turn to the prophets' symbolic acts.
While the primary method by which the prophet communicated God's word was speech, the Lord also instructed His spokesmen to do certain things as a way of communicating to the people. These messengers and messages were not all words; they were also deeds. And the deeds of the prophets are referred to as "symbolic acts."
Some of these acts are comparatively brief: just simple object lessons. When the prophet Jeremiah broke a clay jar in front of his audience, for example, it was not a long-term act on his part, and the accompanying message was straight-forward.
At the other extreme, Hosea marrying Gomer was also a kind of symbolic act, but it represented an enormous invest-ment on the part of the prophet. That was not a single act so much as a life choice that God required the prophet to make.
In between, you have the example of Ezekiel's symbolic acting out of the siege of Jerusalem, lying down by a brick. That act was a lengthier demonstration before the people than Jeremiah's episode with the clay pot, yet not so comprehensive as Hosea's marriage.
These are just a few examples, but they serve to illustrate the point.
In more modern times, we have come to understand and classify different learning styles. But over two-thousand years ago, the Lord was already utilizing a variety of methods to convey His message to His people. It wasn't just the spoken word, or even the written word. He also sent His prophets to do a little show-and-tell in order to communicate to the people what they needed to know.
That They May Know
Woven through the book of the prophet Ezekiel like a refrain is the phrase "that they/you may know that I am the Lord."
In 48 chapters, we read the phrase more than 60 times. It is an unmistak-able theme of the book.
And more than just a theme of the book, it is the will of God.
This, you see, is the expressed purpose for so much of what God says He is going to do. Whether punishment or restoration, He says that when He does it, then the people will know that He is the Lord.
The old spiritual that we often hear at Christmas time says to the baby Jesus, "Our eyes was blind, we couldn't see. We didn't know it was You."
That is a recurring problem. Pharaoh didn't know the Lord (Exodus 5:2), and it led him to nothing but trouble. John laments that Jesus was in the world -- the world He had made -- yet "the world did not know Him" (John 1:10). The Samaritan woman did not, at first, know with whom she was dealing (John 4:10). And Jesus' persecutors did not know what they were doing (Luke 23:34).
This is a fundamental priority of God in His relationship with us. We remember His word to the Psalmist: "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). And we recall, too, His declaration through the prophet Jeremiah: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord" (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV).
This is our first order of business: to know Him. And, then, our second order of business is to make Him known to the world around us.