September 21, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Second half of the Book of Ezekiel

John F. FinkThe biblical readings in the Office of Readings next week are from the second half of the Book of Ezekiel. As I explained last week, the first half of the book included Ezekiel’s visions and prophecies concerning the approaching destruction of Jerusalem.

That happened in 587 B.C. After that, Ezekiel’s visions and prophecies are focused on the restoration of Judah. Chapters 25-32 are oracles against Israel’s neighbors, but the Office skips those and goes right to Chapter 34 on Monday.

This chapter contains the parable of the shepherds. The idea of kings as shepherds was hardly new to Ezekiel. It was also found in the books of Samuel, Micah and Jeremiah. They remain in the books of the New Testament and, of course, Jesus referred to himself as the Good Shepherd.

Ezekiel says that God would pasture his sheep, bringing them from the foreign lands and back to Israel.

Furthermore, God said, he would appoint his servant David to pasture his sheep, a prophecy of a messianic king who would rule over the restored Israel.

Chapter 36, read next Tuesday, is another prophecy concerning the restoration of Israel. It’s somewhat repetitious, but here God says that he wasn’t going to restore Israel for Israel’s sake, but rather “for the sake of my holy name, which you profaned among the nations to which you came” (Ez 36:22).

The first 14 verses of Chapter 37 are the well-known vision of the dry bones that inspired the song “Dem Dry Bones.” It’s a prediction of the restoration of Israel under the figure of a resurrection from the dead as the bones come together and are then covered with skin. It should not, though, be seen as a prediction of the final resurrection.

God said that he would put his spirit into those dry bones, which stood for the house of Israel: “I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord” (Ez 37:14).

In the second 14 verses of Chapter 37 (Ez 37:15-28), Ezekiel is told to take two sticks. On one of them, he is to write “Judah” and on the other “Israel.” He is then to join them together so they form a single stick in his hand. Just so, God said, the old kingdoms of Judah and Israel will be joined together, never again to be divided.

God said, “My servant David shall be prince over them, and there shall be one shepherd for them all; they shall live by my statutes and carefully observe my decrees” (Ez 37:24), again prophesying a messianic king.

The readings then move to excerpts from Chapters 40-44, which tell of Ezekiel’s visions concerning the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem.

The final reading is the first 12 verses of Chapter 47, and Ezekiel’s vision of a wonderful and superabundant stream flowing from the temple, restoring to fertility land that is usually arid. †

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