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~ The Prophet ~

Many believe "prophet" means "future-teller." Though that is a part of the mission of prophets, they are better regarded as "truth-tellers." As such, the job was a treacherous one, bringing persecution, hatred, hardship and execution. Jesus lamented to Jerusalem, "You killed all the prophets sent you." The prophetic mission is closely aligned to that of being witnesses, to which all of us are called as pondered in the last two Weekly Reflections. It is far more biblical to declare, "God has a difficult plan for your life" than the more appealing and popular one of "God has a wonderful plan for your life."

Ezekiel was one of the "major" prophets. "The word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food of mourners. [Mourners traditionally removed their headdress, replacing it with ashes, and their footwear, as a gesture of grieving. Covering one's face was a sign of uncleanness or shame.] So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded. Then the people asked me, 'Won't you tell us what these things have to do with us?' So I said to them, 'The word of the Lord came to me: Say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary -- the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection...You will not mourn or weep but will waste away because of your sins and groan among yourselves. Ezekiel will be a sign to you; you will do just as he has done. When this happens, you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord' " (Ezekiel 24:15-21a, 23b-24).

The temple was burned down on the same day Ezekiel's wife died, in 586 BC. Those of us who read or hear these biblical accounts may well ask what the people asked Ezekiel: "Won't you tell us what these things have to do with us?" That is my own prevailing question whenever I study scripture, history, or current events. The answers are typically multifaceted and, like an onion, are deeply layered.

One of those layers is revealed in Psalm 25 as a fervent prayer: "Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord...For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great" (v. 6-7, 11). "For the sake of your name, O Lord" brings us back to Ezekiel.

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations...Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,' declares the Sovereign Lord, 'when I show myself holy through you before their eyes' " (Ezekiel 36:22-23). These are not the words of a gospel of prosperity or reward for humans. Though many of us are inclined to feel otherwise, the kingdom of God and the universe He created do not revolve around us, but Him. Our names and reputations are soiled with sin, but God's name is pure and holy.

That's why God declares, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws...You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness...I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices" (Ezekiel 36:25-31).

The next verse is the clincher, which is why I'm giving it a separate paragraph: "I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord" (v. 32a).

This is what is meant by the "Lord's justice," and why the psalms declare that justice and peace embrace. But did not Christ sacrifice Himself out of love for us? Yes, yet recall how He kept saying and doing things "that the Father may be glorified." We like to think the redemptive act of the Christ is all about us. However, the sovereignty of God is above all and all whirls around it. How can it be otherwise?

Recall how the pleading of Psalm 25, "Forgive my sins, though they are great" is preceded by "For the sake of your name, O Lord." Another psalm cries out, "The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me" (Psalm 18:4-5). This rather desperate circumstance is a result of sin, that of our own and others, for we all have sinned and were conceived in sin (Psalm 51). However, "He rescued me because he loves me" (Psalm 18:19b).

Therein lies a layer of the mystery. The sovereignty of God cannot be separated from His love and forgiveness. For the sake of His name and holiness, not ours, we are loved, forgiven and delivered. For the sake of His name we endure and suffer all things, and enjoy His love and blessings, and whatever may come to us and through us. Somehow, some way, through His mysterious manner, God makes all things turn into our good. In our depravity, pain, afflictions and struggles, we then see and declare God's holiness and sovereignty. Everything there is and that happens is really about Him, not us. If that does not seem quite right or fair, or we are tinged with a bit of desire to grab a little sovereignty and power for ourselves, let us remember that's already been tried, by the brightest, most luminous and powerful of all angels. And we know what happened to him.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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