Sunday, June 08, 2014

A COVENANT OF PEACE - EZEKIEL 34




Looking back to verses 20-24, we saw that God promised to take care of the sheep, his people, through David. David in this case means the Messiah, Jesus, who came from the line of David.
Verse 25 then tells us that when God (Yahweh) appoints the Davidic shepherd, he will make a covenant of peace with Israel. This recalls Ezekiel 16:60 where God said he would make an eternal covenant with them. This eternal covenant of peace means the end of God's wrath upon his people. It is similar to Isaiah 54:7-10, also promising a covenant of peace.
We have seen that God's wrath is terrible in the historical account of the destruction of Jerusalem. We studied God's own horrific descriptions of his wrath here in Ezekiel. He certainly demonstrated it in the flood of Genesis 9. But after each of these horrible events, God renewed his relationship with man. And so it is with the book of Ezekiel. God promised terrible judgment as an expression of his wrath, then promised a new covenant of peace.
Notice that this covenant is unilateral. That means it is one way. God says he will do it. He put no conditions on Israel for this new covenant of peace like he did the old covenant at Sinai. There they had to obey his law in order to experience his blessings. But not here. So, God then goes on to describe the benefits of this covenant of peace. He describes what this peace will look like.
He will banish wild animals from their land so they can live without fear of attack. (25)
He will make the people and the place a blessing to others. (26)
There will be rain and it will rain at the right time. (26)
crops, orchards and vineyards shall increase. (27)
He will break their yoke; deliver them from captivity. (27)
Nations will not devour them. (28)
They will not suffer reproach from other nations. (29)

The end result of all of this is that they will know that Yahweh is their God and they are his people. In other words, they will be in covenant with him. They are his sheep, of his pasture. He is their God. (31) Isaiah 11:1-9 describes a similar situation where Jesus restores creation to the state of Eden, where animals were not killers and all lived together in harmony, man and beast. There is also a close correlation with Hosea 2:20-25. There God said he would make them faithful and he would be their God. This would come about via his mercy. There is even a correlation to the blessings set out in Job 5:23. It is as if famine and attacks from animals are symbolic of all the tragedies that could befall a disobedient nation. It is interesting to me that the City of Detroit, Michigan, has fallen apart so much that there are wild dogs roaming the city and a break down of law enforcement in many parts of the city.
You can also notice that the benefits of this peace reflect the benefits or blessings of the covenant in Lev. 26:4-13. God promised security and prosperity. This is fitting, since God has been outing out the curses of the covenant on his people. Covenant is the way God relates to his people.
Another thing that jumps out at us is that it is the destruction of the old that allows for the new. After God destroyed the earth by water, he was able to proceed anew with Noah, making a covenant with him. In Ezekiel, after destroying Jerusalem, God is able to proceed with this new covenant.
In this new covenant God reverses the curse of the old covenant. Where God made them vulnerable to their enemies before, God now makes them secure. Where God made the land desolate under the curse, he now will make it productive under the new covenant. And these blessings are tied to the coming of the Messiah, the Davidic prince.
The glaring difference, though, is the lack of conditions. God initiates Israel's restoration for his own purposes, just as he did in redeeming Israel from Egypt. There he said "I have brought you to myself".
But over all of these blessings is God’s main intent and purpose: they shall know that he is God. (30) Interestingly, Jesus said eternal life is knowing the Father.
This was a very encouraging word to the Israelite exiles. It meant God had not abandoned them completely. He would bring them back to Israel. He would be there God. But some of this encouraging word would be fulfilled in the Messianic age. There was a promise of a future covenant. There was a reassurance that David’s line would again be on the throne, but his would happen with the Messiah. It meant God himself would be their shepherd, again fulfilled in the Messiah. So, when Jesus came and, in John 10, said he was the good shepherd but the Jewish leaders were thieves and robbers, you can understand why the leaders were upset. They understood that Jesus accused them of being the bad shepherds of Ezekiel who would face his judgment, while Jesus claimed to be the good shepherd who was God himself in their midst. Although some people maintain that the Jewish leaders misunderstood Jesus, I do not think they did. I believe the understood his Old Testament references perfectly and that is why they were mad at him. They rejected his claims and did not want to give up their leadership to him. So, they killed him.
Shepherds have to remember they are under-shepherds. The flock is God’s and he tends it. The under-shepherd just serves to let God shepherd through him. When he sees the flock as his, or believes he has special privileges over the flock, God will often intervene.
The concept of peace with God is important to us. Peace with God is brought to us by Jesus. This passage in Ezekiel looked forward to that. The angels declared it at the birth of Jesus. We once were subject to God’s wrath. Ephesians 2:3 says we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. God’s wrath brings destruction, as we have seen. Romans 9:22 refers to vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.
James Montgomery Boice said “The worldly mind does not take God’s wrath seriously because it does not take sin seriously. Yet if sin is as bad as the Bible declares it to be, nothing is more just or reasonable than that the wrath of a holy God should rise against it. In the Old Testament there are more than twenty words used to express God’s wrath. More than 600 passages deal with it….” As much as I tired, as a young person, of hearing sermons on God’s wrath, I realize now how necessary it is. We have to understand the horror of sin and the fullness of God’s wrath toward it to appreciate the gift of salvation. And we have to convey this knowledge to others as we witness to them. C. S. Lewis said “We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.” Francis Schaeffer said “If I had one hour with every man, I would spend the first 45 minutes talking to them about God’s law, and the last 15 minutes talking about His great salvation.”
Jesus presented the gospel this way to Nicodemus in John 3. He said God sent his son to give eternal life to all who believe in him. (John 3:16) But, he said those who do not believe are “condemned already”. (John 3:17) They are condemned already because they are objects of God’s wrath. What a horrible thing to be.
Now we are at peace with him. Romans 5:9 says “...much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” And back to Romans 9, Paul said that, in contrast to the vessels of wrath, there are vessels of mercy, those who have received salvation through God’s grace. He has made know to us the “riches of his glory”. (Romans 9:23) He has revealed to us his marvelous grace that has delivered us from his wrath.
As we go to worship today, let’s fall at the feet of the one who gave us mercy and marvel at it and at him. Let us thank Jesus who bore God’s wrath and turned it away from us. And then let us go and tell others that we might help deliver them from God’s wrath into his mercy.


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