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Archive for the ‘Notes on Ezekiel’ Category

St Irenaeus on Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 1, 2017

CHAP. XV.—PROOFS OF THE RESURRECTION FROM ISAIAH AND EZEKIEL; THE SAME GOD WHO CREATED US WILL ALSO RAISE US UP.

1. Now, that He who at the beginning created man, did promise him a second birth after his dissolution into earth, Esaias thus declares: “The dead shall rise again, and they who are in the tombs shall arise, and they who are in the earth shall rejoice. For the dew which is from Thee is health to them.”8 And again: “I will comfort you, and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem: and ye shall see, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish as the grass; and the hand of the Lord shall be known to those who worship Him.”9 And Ezekiel speaks as follows: “And the hand of the LORD came upon me, and the LORD led me forth in the Spirit, and set me down in the midst of the plain, and this place was full of bones. And He caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were many upon the surface of the plain very dry. And He said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I said, Lord, Thou who hast made them dost know. And He said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and thou shalt say to them, Ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the LORD to these bones, Behold, I will cause the spirit of life to come upon you, and I will lay sinews upon you, and bring up flesh again upon you, and I will stretch skin upon you, and will put my Spirit into you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. And I prophesied as the Lord had commanded me. And it came to pass, when I was prophesying, that, behold, an earthquake, and the bones were drawn together, each one to its own articulation: and I beheld, and, lo, the sinews and flesh were produced upon them, and the skins rose upon them round about, but there was no breath in them. And He said unto me, Prophesy to the breath, son of man, and say to the breath, These things saith the LORD, Come from the four winds (spiritibus), and breathe upon these dead, that they may live. So I prophesied as the Lord had commanded me, and the breath entered into them; and they did live, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great gathering.”10 And again he says, “Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will set your graves open, and cause you to come out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the LORD, p 543 when I shall open your sepulchres, that I may bring my people again out of the sepulchres: and I will put my Spirit into you, and ye shall live; and I will place you in your land, and ye shall know that I am the LORD. I have said, and I will do, saith the LORD.”1 As we at once perceive that the Creator (Demiurgo) is in this passage represented as vivifying our dead bodies, and promising resurrection to them, and resuscitation from their sepulchres and tombs, conferring upon them immortality also (He says, “For as the tree of life, so shall their days be”2), He is shown to be the only God who accomplishes these things, and as Himself the good Father, benevolently conferring life upon those who have not life from themselves.
2. And for this reason did the Lord most plainly manifest Himself and the Father to His disciples, lest, forsooth, they might seek after another God besides Him who formed man, and who gave him the breath of life; and that men might not rise to such a pitch of madness as to feign another Father above the Creator. And thus also He healed by a word all the others who were in a weakly condition because of sin; to whom also He said, “Behold, thou art made whole, sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee:”3 pointing out by this, that, because of the sin of disobedience, infirmities have come upon men. To that man, however, who had been blind from his birth, He gave sight, not by means of a word, but by an outward action; doing this not without a purpose, or because it so happened, but that He might show forth the hand of God, that which at the beginning had moulded man. And therefore, when His disciples asked Him for what cause the man had been born blind, whether for his own or his parents’ fault, He replied, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”4 Now the work of God is the fashioning of man. For, as the Scripture says, He made [man] by a kind of process: “And the Lord took day from the earth, and formed man.”5 Wherefore also the Lord spat on the ground and made clay, and smeared it upon the eyes, pointing out the original fashioning [of man], how it was effected, and manifesting the hand of God to those who can understand by what [hand] man was formed out of the dust. For that which the artificer, the Word, had omitted to form in the womb, [viz., the blind man’s eyes], He then supplied in public, that the works of God might be manifested in him, in order that we might not be seeking out another hand by which man was fashioned, nor another Father; knowing that this hand of God which formed us at the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back His own, and taking up the lost sheep upon His shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life.
3. Now, that the Word of God forms us in the womb, He says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee; and before thou wentest forth from the belly, I sanctified thee, and appointed thee a prophet among the nations.”6 And Paul, too, says in like manner, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, that I might declare Him among the nations.”7 As, therefore, we are by the Word formed in the womb, this very same Word formed the visual power in him who had been blind from his birth; showing openly who it is that fashions us in secret, since the Word Himself had been made manifest to men: and declaring the original formation of Adam, and the manner in which he was created, and by what hand he was fashioned, indicating the whole from a part. For the Lord who formed the visual powers is He who made the whole man, carrying out the will of the Father. And inasmuch as man, with respect to that formation which, was after Adam, having fallen into transgression, needed the laver of regeneration, [the Lord] said to him [upon whom He had conferred sight], after He had smeared his eyes with the clay, “Go to Siloam, and wash;”8 thus restoring to him both [his perfect] confirmation, and that regeneration which takes place by means of the laver. And for this reason when he was washed he came seeing, that he might both know Him who had fashioned him, and that man might learn [to know] Him who has conferred upon him life.
4. All the followers of Valentinus, therefore, lose their case, when they say that man was not fashioned out of this earth, but from a fluid and diffused substance. For, from the earth out of which the Lord formed eyes for that man, from the same earth it is evident that man was also fashioned at the beginning. For it were incompatible that the eyes should indeed be formed from one source and the rest of the body from another; as neither would it be compatible that one [being] fashioned the body, and another the eyes. But He, the very same who formed Adam at the beginning, with whom also the Father spake, [saying], “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness,”9 revealing Himself in these last times to men, formed visual organs (visionem) for him who had been blind [in p 544 that body which he had derived] from Adam. Wherefore also the Scripture, pointing out what should come to pass, says, that when Adam had hid himself because of his disobedience, the Lord came to him at eventide, called him forth, and said, “Where art thou?”1 That means that in the last times the very same Word of God came to call man, reminding him of his doings, living in which he had been hidden from the Lord. For just as at that time God spake to Adam at eventide, searching him out; so in the last times, by means of the same voice, searching out his posterity, He has visited them.

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Tertullian on Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 1, 2017

CHAP. XXIX.—EZEKIEL’S VISION OF THE DRY BONES QUOTED

Inasmuch, then, as even the figurative portions of Scripture, and the arguments of facts, and some plain statements of Holy Writ, throw light upon the resurrection of the flesh (although without specially naming the very substance), how much more effectual for determining the question will not those passages be which indicate the actual substance of the body by expressly mentioning it! Take Ezekiel: “And the hand of the Lord,” says he, “was upon me; and the Lord brought me forth in the Spirit, and set me in the midst of a plain which was full of bones; and He led me round about them in a circuit: and, behold, there were many on the face of the plain; and, lo, they were very dry. And He said unto me, Son of man, will these bones live? And I said, O Lord God, Thou knowest. And He said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones; and thou shalt say, Ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God to these bones, Behold, I bring upon you the breath of life, and ye shall live: and I will give unto you the spirit, and I will place muscles over you, and I will spread skin upon you; and ye shall live, and shall know that I am the Lord. And I prophesied as the Lord commanded me: and while I prophesy, behold there is a voice, behold also a movement, and bones approached bones. And I saw, and behold sinews and flesh came up over them, and muscles were placed around them; but there was no breath in them. And He said unto me, Prophesy to the wind, son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord God, Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe in these dead men, and let them live. So I prophesied to the wind, as He commanded me, and the spirit entered into the bones, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, strong and exceeding many. And the Lord said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say themselves, Our bones are become dry, and our hope is perished, and we in them have been violently destroyed. Therefore prophesy unto them, (and say), Behold, even I will open your sepulchres, and will bring you out of your sepulchres, O my people, and will bring you into the land of Israel: and ye shall know how that I the Lord opened your sepulchres, and brought you, O my people, out of your sepulchres; and I will give my Spirit unto you, and ye shall live, and shall rest in your own land: and ye shall know how that I the Lord have spoken and done these things, saith the Lord.”1
CHAP. XXX.—THIS VISION INTERPRETED BY TERTULLIAN OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODIES OF THE DEAD. A CHRONOLOGICAL ERROR OF OUR AUTHOR, WHO SUPPOSES THAT EZEKIEL IN HIS CH. XXXI. PROPHESIED BEFORE THE CAPTIVITY

I am well aware how they torture even this prophecy into a proof of the allegorical sense, on the ground that by saying, “These bones are the whole house of Israel,” He made them a figure of Israel, and removed them from their proper literal condition; and therefore (they contend) that there is here a figurative, not a true prediction of the resurrection, for (they say) the state of the Jews is one of humiliation, in a certain sense dead, and very dry, and dispersed over the plain of the world. Therefore the image of a resurrection is allegorically applied to their state, since it has to be gathered together, and recompacted bone to bone (in other words, tribe to tribe, and people to people), and to be reincorporated by the sinews of power and the nerves of royalty, and to be brought out as it were from sepulchres, that is to say, from the most miserable and degraded abodes of captivity, and to breathe afresh in the way of a restoration, and to live thenceforward in their own land of Judæa. And what is to happen after all this? They will die, no doubt. And what will there be after death? No resurrection from the dead, of course, since there is nothing of the sort here revealed to Ezekiel. Well, but the resurrection is elsewhere foretold: so that there will be one even in this case, and they are rash in applying this passage to the state of Jewish affairs; or even if it do indicate a different recovery from the resurrection which we are maintaining, what matters it to me, provided there be also a resurrection of the body, just as there is a restoration of the Jewish state? In fact, by the very circumstance that the recovery of the Jewish state is prefigured by the reincorporation and reunion of bones, proof is offered that this event will also happen to the bones themselves; for the metaphor could not have been formed from bones, if the same thing exactly were not to be realized in them also. Now, although there is a sketch of the true thing in its image, the image itself still possesses a truth of its own: it must needs be, therefore, that that must have a prior existence for itself, which is used figuratively to express some other thing. Vacuity is not a consistent basis for a similitude, nor does nonentity form a suitable foundation for a parable. It will therefore be right to believe that the bones are destined to have a rehabiliment of flesh and breath, such as it is here said they will have, by reason indeed of which their renewed state could alone express the reformed condition of Jewish affairs, which is pretended to be the meaning of this passage. It is however, more characteristic of a religious spirit to maintain the truth on the authority of a literal interpretation, such as is required by the sense of the inspired passage. Now, if this vision had reference to the condition of the Jews, as soon as He had revealed to him the position of the bones, He would at once have added, “These bones are the whole house of Israel,” and so forth. But immediately on showing the bones, He interrupts the scene by saying somewhat of the prospect which is most suited to bones; without yet naming Israel, He tries the prophet’s own faith: “Son of man, can these bones ever live?” so that he makes answer: “O Lord, Thou knowest.” Now God would not, you may be sure, have tried the prophet’s faith on a point which was never to be a real one, of which Israel should never hear, and in which it was not proper to repose belief. Since, however, the resurrection of the dead was indeed foretold, but Israel, in the distrust of his great unbelief, was offended at it; and, whilst gazing on the condition of the crumbling grave, despaired of a resurrection; or rather, did not direct his mind mainly to it, but to his own harassing circumstances,—therefore God first instructed the prophet (since he, too, was not free from doubt), by revealing to him the process of the resurrection, with a view to his earnest setting forth of the same. He then charged the people to believe what He had revealed to the prophet, telling them that they were themselves, though refusing to believe their resurrection, the very bones which were destined to rise again. Then in the concluding sentence He says, “And ye shall know how that I the Lord have spoken and done these things,” intending of course to do that of which He had spoken; but certainly not meaning to do that which He had spoken of, if His design had been to do something different from what He had said.

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My Notes on Ezekiel 24:15-23

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 17, 2014

Background~In 603 BC the Kingdom of Judah came under the vassalage of the Babylonian empire.  In 601 BC Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, met Pharaoh  Neco of Egypt in battle; a battle in which both sides suffered heavy losses. Encouraged by this setback to Babylon’s military might, the reigning king of Judah, Jehoiakim, decided to rebel. Busy rebuilding his army after the devastating stalemate with Pharaoh Neco the king of Babylon was unable to campaign in 600-599 BC, and throughout much of 598 BC his revitalized forces were busy elsewhere. However, he was able to send small forces of his Babylonian regulars, along with mercenaries, into Judah to harass king and populous. In December 598 he was able to send his army. That same month the rebellious king of Judah, Jehoiakim, died, leaving his 18 year old son, Jehoiachin to deal with the problem. On March 16, 597 BC the young king surrendered and he, along with his family, government official, and leading citizens were taken into exile in Babylon. His uncle, Mattaniah, renamed Zedekiah, was place on the throne as the new vassal king to Babylon (see 1 Kings 23:36-24:17). It was in this deportation that Ezekiel was also taken into Babylon where, on July 31, 593 BC he received his call to prophecy (Ezek 1:1-2). In spite of prophecies to the contrary (i.e., by Jeremiah), the people in exile were under the delusion that Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah would continue in existence, and that their exile would soon end. It was one of Ezekiel’s primary prophetic duties to disabuse the people of this expectation. Jerusalem would fall; the exile would continue (see Ezek 4:1-11:13; 12:1-28; 15:1-8; 16:1-63, etc.).

On January 15, 587 BC Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, laid siege to Jerusalem (Ezek 24:1-2). On this very day God commanded Ezekiel to declare a parable about a cauldron unto the exiles (see Ezek 24:3-14). To understand the overall point of the passage one has to recall that in Ezek 11:3 the people of Jerusalem had compared their city to a cauldron, and themselves as the meat in it. The point of this comparison seems to be the following: just as a pot protects meat from the fire, so too Jerusalem–the Holy City where God manifested His presence in the Temple–would provide protection for the people.  But because of the blood shed in the city it would not be a protective kettle for the arrogant who placed their hope in its protection (Ezek 11:7-11). The people were unaware that the Divine Presence had already left the Temple and the city, sealing their fate (Ezek 10:18-23).

In the parable of the cauldron (Jerusalem) the people are the choice meat which will be given out indiscriminately, an image of exile (Ezek 24:3-6). But blood has corrupted the cauldron (Jerusalem) and it must be purified. God will heap up a great fire to cook the meat (people) within the pot (Jerusalem), then, with the pot empty, (due to exile) He will heat the pot until its corrupting rust disappears (Ezek 24:9-11). The corrupting rust will not disappear, however (Ezek 24:12). It is implied that a greater cleansing must take place. So too with the people, their willful corruption makes an intense purification by God necessary (Ezek 24:13-14). It is at this point that today’s reading begins.

Ezek 24:15  And the word of the Lord came to me, saying:
Ezek 24:16  Son of man, behold I take from thee the desire of thy eyes with a sudden stroke, and thou shall not lament, nor weep; neither shall thy tears run down.
Ezek 24:17  Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead: let a fancy covering for thy head be upon thee, and thy shoes on thy feet, and cover not thy lip, nor eat the food of mourners.

On the same day on which Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, and Ezekiel was told to speak the parable of the cauldron, his wife died. Although she is the desire of his eyes he is not to engage in the usual physical mourning (lament, crying). He is to maintain silence. Then as now in the Middle East loud, public expressions of grief were the norm at the death of a loved one. He is not to divest himself of a head covering-a traditional mourning practice-but rather place an ornate covering upon it. He is not to go barefoot, as was the norm of people mourning. Neither shall he cover his lip (i.e., mustache and beard). He is to abstain from the food of mourners (i. e., food prepared by others since food could not be prepared in the house of a dead person.

Ezek 24:18  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and my wife died in the evening: and I did in the morning as he had commanded me

“The prophet-any prophet-was never a person who could divorce himself from the people to whom the Lord sent him both as a messenger and a representative.  Not even Amos (cf. Am 7:1-6) could do this. It was part of the prophetic vocation and its burden that it had to share in the destiny of its people…So as Ezekiel records, ‘I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died.’ Apparently he was simply a causality of divine providence, a sign, a symbol. Some faith is necessary. ‘And on the next morning I did as I was commanded'” (Father Bruce Vawter and Father Leslie J. Hoppe,  A NEW HEART, page 115).  

Ezek 24:19  And the people said to me: Why dost thou not tell us what these things mean that thou doest?
Ezek 24:20  And I said to them: The word of the Lord came to me, saying:
Ezek 24:21  Speak to the house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord God: Behold I will profane my sanctuary, the glory of your realm, and the thing that your eyes desire, and for which your soul feareth: your sons, and your daughters, whom you have left, shall fall by the sword.
Ezek 24:22  And you shall do as I have done: you shall not cover your faces, nor shall you eat the meat of mourners.
Ezek 24:23  You shall have crowns on your heads, and shoes on your feet: you shall not lament nor weep, but you shall pine away for your iniquities, and every one shall sigh with his brother
.

The question the people put to the prophet is answered by God through the prophet. Just as he lost the “desire of his eyes,” so too will they lose what their eyes desire, the sanctuary (Temple), along with their sons and their daughters. No reason is given as to why the people are forbidden to mourn. Some scholars speculate that the enormity of the event would make the normal rites of mourning inadequate. Other scholars think the fact that since it is the people’s corruption and sins that have brought such calamity, any kind of mourning would be out of place, hypocritical.

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My Notes on Ezekiel 36:16-28

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 10, 2013

Quotations are take from the RSV which is under the following copyright restrictions:

The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted.

Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows:

“Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Links are to the NRSV.

Background~In 597 BC  the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, invaded the small kingdom of Judah and forced its capitulation. The palace and temple were stripped of their furnishings, the king, the royal family and many of the nation’s leading people were taken into exile, including a man named Ezekiel.  A puppet king was put on the throne but he rebelled against his Babylonian overlords who, in response, invaded the land a second time, in 587 BC,  destroying Jerusalem and its Temple, and forcing more people into exile from the land.

It was between these two events, on July 31, 597 BC that Ezekiel was called to his prophetic ministry among the early exiles in Babylon.

In chapters 1-24 of Ezekiel these people are often portrayed as exhibiting a confidence in their future which was very out of touch with the political, moral, and religious situation of their time and their status as exiles. The prophet was called upon to disabuse them of their notions. In Ezekiel 33:1-39:29 the situation is markedly different. What Ezekiel had been warning the exiles of 597 about came to pass, Jerusalem rebelled and was destroyed by the Babylonians. But all was not lost. The prophet who had predicted disaster for the city and temple now is called upon to preach a coming restoration.

16 The word of the LORD came to me:
17a “Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their doings….

The introductory phrase the word of the LORD came to me (16) is stock prophetic phrasing, indicating the source for what follows. Ezekiel is not like the false prophets who prophecy out of their own minds and who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing. Such people helped bring about the exile (see Ezekiel 13:1-17).

The prophet is addressed as son of man (17), a phrase which is here synonymous with human being; it should not be confused with the profound theological title “Son of Man” applied to our Lord in the NT. God rehearses for the prophet the reasons why the people have gone into exile. The land had been given to them as a gift and they were supposed to keep it (and themselves) pure by living holy lives within it (Deut 8 and Deut 11:8-32), but they defiled it by their ways and their doings (seeJer 2:7; Ps 106:24).

18 So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood which they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it.

Is this verse referring to the shedding of innocent blood by oppression (see Isa 5:7), or the shedding of sacrificial animal (or human) blood to idols? (see the abominations committed in the Jerusalem temple in Ezekiel 8:1-18 and the punishment it would bring in Ezekiel 9 [see Especially Ezekiel 9:9]). Probably both crimes are meant (see Ezekiel 22:3-12).

19 I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries; in accordance with their conduct and their deeds I judged them.

Because of their idolatry, oppression and other crimes God enacted the covenant punishments which culminated in exile (see the lengthy list of covenant punishments given in Deut 28:15-68). The purpose of the covenant punishments was to bring the people to repentance, the amendment of their ways, and to a renewed commitment to God (Deut 4:27-31, Deut 30:1-10).

20 But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that men said of them, `These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.’
21 But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel caused to be profaned among the nations to which they came. 

Having forced God’s hand into exiling them they brought God’s holy name (synonymous with his person, power, and faithfulness) into ill-repute among the nations. While God’s people had the benefit of revelation to indicate to them the purpose of their punishment, the people of the other nations did not. They would see the the Israelite’s  military defeat, exile, etc., as indicating the weakness of the Israelite god, proof of his lack of fidelity to his people and his lack of power to protect them. See Ezekiel 20 with its interplay between Israel’s sins and God’s acting for the sake of his name.

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations will know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

Sanctifying and glorifying the name (person and power) of God is what God’s people are called to do, a fact made evident in the Lord’s Prayer: “hallowed by Thy Name.” See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Articles 2807-2815.

24 For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.

The punishment of exile (verse 19) will end and will be followed by-as the following verses indicate-a spiritual renewal, reversing the judgment which fell upon the people.

25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

The uncleanness (25)  of the people will be removed, i.e., the bloodshed and idolatry mentioned in verses 16-17. We see in verse 26 that these will be replaced with a new heart and a new spirit (the human spirit, not the Holy Spirit, but see note in red below and the next paragraph). In the bible the heart is associated with understanding and behavior, the spirit with dispositions, predilections, moods. Man’s will and temperament will be effected for the better.It is possible that the new spirit spoken of here is not the human spirit but, rather, God’s spirit.

I will put my spirit within you. The new human heart and human spirit mentioned in verse 26 will be the result of God’s spirit working in man.

These verses have had profound influence in the history of the Church’s baptismal practice and theology, its moral teaching, and its pneumatology.

 28 You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

You shall be my people, and I will be your God. Refers to God’s salvific and restorative activity on behalf of his people (see Jer 30:22; Ezekiel 14:9-11; Ezekiel 34:30; Ezekiel 37:23; Ezekiel 37:27; Zechariah 8:8).

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My Notes on Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 17, 2012

I find Ezekiel a very difficult book, for this reason one should not expect much in the way of notes. Chapters 8-11 provide background for chapters 40-48. These latter chapters in  many ways present a reversal of the situations detailed in the earlier ones.  I’ve included a couple of suggested readings at the end.

Background~In Ezekiel 8:1-11:25 the prophet experienced a vision of the temple grossly profaned by the worship of idols, animals, the god Tammuz and the sun.  So grossly has the temple been profaned that God declares he is being driven away (Ezekiel 8:6). Destruction is decreed (Ezekiel 8:18). A summons is sent to six “men” who remind us of the destroying angel(s) of Exodus 12:23; 2 Sam 24:16-17 and 2 Kings 19:35. They are given the command to destroy and are clearly to be seen as a prophetic foreshadowing of the Babylonian army and the havoc it was to reap on the people. Meanwhile a seventh “man” is commissioned to bestow an identifying mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof (9:4). There is in this a subtle hint that some will survive the coming catastrophe (see Ezekiel 9:1-11). The seventh “man” (apparently a priestly figure) is then given a second commission to fill thy hand with the coals of fire…and pour them out upon the city (Ezekiel 10:2). Sent off to his task the glory of the Lord then leaves the threshold of the Temple (Ezekiel 8:6; 10:18; 11:22-23).

After witnessing all of this the prophet is told to prophecy against certain men that study iniquity, and frame a wicked counsel (Ezekiel 11:2).  They have been claiming that Jerusalem and it inhabitants are safe when, in fact, their destruction is coming. The sword will come upon them (see Ezekiel 11:1-13), the exile will happen. (It should be kept in mind that there were two exiles from Judah. The first occurred in 597 BC and included Ezekiel before his prophetic call. This first exile was meant as a warning so that the people and rulers of Judah would not rebel again against their Babylonian overlords. They did rebel again however, and in 587 Babylon invaded, destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, and exiled a large number of inhabitants).

We learn from the remainder of chapter 11 (Ezekiel 11:14-21) that the first exiles (those of 597 BC) will eventually return to the land and rebuild, but not before the remaining inhabitant are punished for their continued and increasing sins.

There then follows, in Ezekiel 12, prophetic acts meant to symbolize the siege and exile of the people and, also, there occurs revelation to the prophet concerning what is coming and why. Sword, famine and pestilence are coming upon the land (Ezekiel 12:16). Cities will be laid waste and the land will be a desolation (Ezekiel 12:20). Ezekiel 40:1-48:35 (from which today’s first reading is taken, i.e., 47:1-9, 12) is intended to convey the reversal of this situation.

Eze 47:1  And he brought me again to the gate of the house, and behold waters issued out from under the threshold of the house toward the east: for the forefront of the house looked toward the east: but the waters came down to the right side of the temple to the south part of the altar.

Ezekiel has been (if I may put it this way) on a visionary tour of a new Temple. He has seen the Lord’s glory enter this new temple (Ezekiel 43:1-9), reversing its exodus from the old one (Ezekiel 11:22-23). Standing now before the front, easterly-facing gate of this vision-temple, the prophet sees water issuing from under its threshold and flowing through the inner court, past the right side of the altar of sacrifice. Note: the gate here is to the temple, not the wall gates mentioned in verse 2.

Eze 47:2  And he led me out by the way of the north gate, and he caused me to turn to the way without the outward gate to the way that looked toward the east: and behold there ran out waters on the right side.

Ezekiel and his guide leave the inner court by the north wall-gate and circle the wall until they come to the east gate of the wall. Here the prophet sees the water running (literally, pouring) out under this gate. We are to understand that the water issued from the temple (verse 1) in a small quantity but is now increasing in volume.

Eze 47:3  And when the man that had the line in his hand went out towards the east, he measured a thousand cubits: and he brought me through the water up to the ankles.
Eze 47:4  And again he measured a thousand, and he brought me through the water up to the knees.
Eze 47:5  And he measured a thousand, and he brought me through the water up to the loins. And he measured a thousand, and it was a torrent, which I could not pass over: for the waters were risen so as to make a deep torrent, which could not be passed over.

Four times at one thousand cubit intervals,  Ezekiel’s guide measures the depth of the stream which is shown to be increasing in both depth and volume of water. Note: A cubit was a rough form of measurement, apparently indicating the distance from elbow to finger tip. The average cubit is estimated to have been about 18 inches or 0.5 meters (approximately).

Eze 47:6  And he said to me: Surely thou hast seen, O son of man. And he brought me out, and he caused me to turn to the bank of the torrent.
Eze 47:7  And when I had turned myself, behold on the bank of the torrent were very many trees on both sides.
Eze 47:8  And he said to me: These waters that issue forth toward the hillocks of sand to the east, and go down to the plains of the desert, shall go into the sea, and shall go out, and the waters shall be healed.

The water continues its course through the Judean wilderness (“the plains of the desert”) and into the Jordan River (apparently), finally coming to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is so named because its high salt content makes it inhospitable to life, but the temple water flowing into it will cause it to be “healed.”

Eze 47:9  And every living creature that creepeth whithersoever the torrent shall come, shall live: and there shall be fishes in abundance after these waters shall come thither, and they shall be healed, and all things shall live to which the torrent shall come.

The land had been brought to destruction after the glory of the Lord had left the Temple. In his vision, the prophet sees that once the temple is rebuilt and the glory of the Lord again dwells there, the people, produce and livestock will again flourish.

Eze 47:12  And by the torrent on the banks thereof on both sides shall grow all trees that bear fruit: their leaf shall not fall off, and their fruit shall not fail: every month shall they bring forth firstfruits, because the waters thereof shall issue out of the sanctuary: and the fruits thereof shall be for food, and the leaves thereof for medicine.

The passage always reminds me of the second strophe of the morning hymn of the Liturgy of the Hours  sung on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross:

O Cross of Christ, immortal tree
On which our Saviour died,
The world is sheltered by your arms
That bore the Crucified.

Beginning with the early Church Fathers the passage was often interpreted in relation to Christ, the new temple (John 2:13-22), from whom blood and water issued (John 19:31-37). And in relation to the new creation (Rev 22:1-5). It also was used in association with baptism, particularly during the Easter Vigil when the catechumens were baptized:

 The second symbol of the Easter Vigil – the night of Baptism – is water. It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings. On the one hand there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it. Hence the book of Revelation says that in God’s new world, the sea will be no more (cf. Rev 21:1). It is the element of death. And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus’ death on the Cross: Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea. Having risen from death, he gives us life. This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.

 The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life. It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture. They are places from which life rises forth. Beside Jacob’s well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life. He reveals himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf.  John 4:5-15). Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side – from his pierced heart – there came out blood and water (cf.  John 19:34). The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. In his death, Jesus himself became the spring. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf.  Ezekiel 47:1-12). In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile. Jesus, however, prophesied something still greater. He said: “Whoever believes in me … out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love! (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Holy Saturday, 2009).

Suggested Books:

Interpretation: Ezekiel (A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching). Joseph Blenkinsopp. Blenkinsopp is professor emeritus at Notre Dame University. The interpretation series was produced by authors from a variety of ecclesiastical traditions.

Ezekiel: A New Heart (International Theological Commentary). Father Bruce Vawter and Father L. J. Hoppe. The ITC is a series which includes contributors from a wide range of ecclesiastical traditions.

Ezekiel, Daniel: (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture). Stevenson and Glerup, editors. Commentary take from the fathers and early medieval writers. I’ve not yet read the book but I suspect I will find 47:1-12 interpreted christologically, with the temple being applied to Christ, the water to his passion, baptism, etc.

Ezekiel, With an Excursus on the Old Testament Priesthood. Father Aelred Cody, O.S.B.

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My Notes on Ezekiel 34:11-16

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 26, 2012

Quotations are take from the RSV which is under the following copyright restrictions:

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Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows:

“Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Links are to the NRSV.

Background~In 597 BC  the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, invaded the small kingdom of Judah and forced its capitulation. The palace and temple were stripped of their furnishings, the king, the royal family and many of the nation’s leading people were taken into exile, including a man named Ezekiel.  A puppet king was put on the throne but he rebelled against his Babylonian overlords who, in response, invaded the land a second time, in 587 BC,  destroying Jerusalem and its Temple, and forcing more people into exile from the land.

It was between these two events, on July 31, 597 BC that Ezekiel was called to his prophetic ministry among the early exiles in Babylon.

In chapters 1-24 of Ezekiel these people are often portrayed as exhibiting a confidence in their future which was very out of touch with the political, moral, and religious situation of their time and their status as exiles. The prophet was called upon to disabuse them of their notions. In Ezekiel 33:1-39:29 the situation is markedly different. What Ezekiel had been warning the exiles of 597 about came to pass, Jerusalem rebelled and was destroyed by the Babylonians. But all was not lost. The prophet who had predicted disaster for the city and temple now is called upon to preach a coming restoration.

11 “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.

I, I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out. This is necessitated by the fact that the leaders of the people-described as shepherds-who were primarily responsible for the debacles of 597 and 587 BC, had been more concerned with pasturing themselves (Ezekiel 34:2). Like cannibalistic parasites they had fed of the flock put in their charge, not helping them, but, rather, helping themselves at their expense. This lack of care for the flock led to its going astray, being scattered, becoming prey (Ezekiel 34:4-6).  God here promises to rectify that situation Himself.

Note the two-fold use of the first-person singular personal pronoun followed by the reflexive: I, I myself. The emphatic nature of the construction was no doubt intended to give comfort and assurance: I and no other.

For the image of God as shepherd see Gen 48:15; Psalm 23; Mark 6:34; John 10:1-18.

12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

As a shepherd seeks out his flock…so will I seek out my sheep. As just indicated, this is something the leaders had not done.

On a day of clouds and thick darkness. Probably a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Exile. Possibly an allusion to Ezekiel 10 which narrates the bright cloud of God’s presence abandoning the Temple, indicating its coming destruction.

13 And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the fountains, and in all the inhabited places of the country.
14 I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.

I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries. A reference to the end of the exile, and the return of the people into their own land.

I will feed them on the mountains of Israel &c.  The mountains of Israel were often the sites of the so-called “high places” where the Israelites worshiped false gods. These mountains and their cultic shrines were specifically condemned by Ezekiel at God’s request: ”Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them” (see Ezekiel 6:1-14). The fact that God will feed them on these mountains indicates the restoration of the land after its destruction and subsequent lack of care (the farms and vineyards would have been overgrown and become wild, and the cities, (inhabited places) desolate (see Jer 9:9-11; Jer 25:11). See Ezekiel’s prophecy of the regeneration of the land in Ezekiel 36:1-15.

15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.

I will make them lie down. An image of rest, it forms a nice contrast to the image of scattering and straying.

16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.

The exact opposite of those condemned in Ezekiel 34:2-6.

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