Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why the Incarnation Matters: The Restoration Begins

With the Book of Ezekiel, this commentary enters into a new stage, juast as salvation history entered a new stage with Ezekiel.  He begins what could be called the literature of the Exile.  He was amongst the first wave of the Kingdom of Judah exiled to Babylon.  To understand why this is important, we need to reflect on who Ezekiel is.

We know that the prophet Ezekiel was a priest, from an upper class family of priests.  His job was to offer sacrifice.  For sacrifice to occur, it was to be connected with the temple worship.  Yet being in exile, he is deprived of that temple worship.  Indeed, the temple (along with the entire city) is sacked, fulfilling Ezekiel's prophesy.

In addition to this, he is in a foreign land.  He is essentially cut off from his vocation, his people, and his culture.  During his prophetic ministry, he would suffer constant ailments and sicknesses, as well as the loss of his wife.  Yet it was through these deprivations that Ezekiel came to understand the coming restoration, of which the heavenly temple symbolizes.  He experiences the first signs of that restoration in a rather curious incident.

He describes four figures who appeared as beasts yet also men.  These creatures are shown worshipping Yahweh.  To the prophet, this vision would have been unmistakable.  The four creatures represented the Assyrian karibu, the figures in statues portrayed guarding the royal palace.  By showing them worshipping Yahweh, God is trying to communicate to His people that He is not limited to Jerusalem, an error the people frequently made throughout history.  (One need only remember David's anguish over God not having a house of brick and mortar to dwell in.)

Yet there is something far more important towards this image.  Being the karibu, these things would be pagan.  They would be viewed as something to seperate from.  Yet by this act, they are losing their "profane" character.   The Incarnation is seen through this passage, where that which once rebelled against God now enters into God's service.  Foremost amongst this is human flesh.  Ever since the days of Eden, mankind had been in a state of rebellion against God.  In the Incarnation, Jesus takes on human flesh and serves the Father instead of rebelling against Him.

This imagery is also a recognition of God's supremacy.  If even the things of this world can be pressed into His service, what can thrwart his plans?  This is key to the understanding of the entire book.  In this book, Ezekiel makes some very bold predicitons in his claiming to speak for God.  Certainly this image helped cement in Ezekiel's mind what was to be.  These statues represented the regal authority of the King, and the strongest power in their known earth.  And yet even they act according to His divine plan.  Keep this in mind for later installments.

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