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2 Samuel 13; 2 Corinthians 6; Ezekiel 20; Psalms 66-67

Sep 16, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 13; 2 Corinthians 6; Ezekiel 20; Psalms 66-67

AS IN EZEKIEL 8, WHERE THE elders of the exilic community consult with the prophet, so here in Ezekiel 20. As in the earlier instance, God gives Ezekiel something to say to the elders and to the community they represent.

Part of what Ezekiel conveys has been said before. The Sovereign Lord is not too eager to let them consult him when he finds their hearts so distant (Ezek. 20:2-4, 31; cf. chaps. 13-14). There follows a survey of Israel’s history of rebellions. But there are two or three themes in this chapter that have either not been introduced before or have been barely mentioned.

The first is the sheer glory of God: that is one of God’s driving concerns behind the judgments that have fallen and are about to fall. For the sake of his own name God has done what would keep his name “from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight [he] had brought them out” (Ezek. 20:14; cf. Ezek. 20:22). This theme is further developed in chapters 36 and 39. It is so central in Scripture that we are in danger of overlooking it precisely because of its familiarity. For instance, when Jesus goes to the cross we are accustomed to thinking about God’s love for us in sending so stupendous a gift, or about Jesus’ love for us in that he bore our guilt and punishment in his own body on the tree. Well and good. But the Scriptures also insist that the exaltation of Christ is the product of the Father’s commitment that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father (John 5:23; cf. John 12:23). When Jesus goes to the cross, in part he is acting out of sheer loving obedience to his Father (John 14:31; cf. 15:9-11). God’s awesome plan of redemption is to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:3-14). This must shape our understanding of God—and thus our prayer lives and our priorities.

That is also why, in the second place, God will not permit his people to be comfortable in their sin. The law was given so that the one who obeys it will “live by” it (20:11, 21, 25; cf. Lev. 18:5)—in this context this means that the one who obeys the Law will prosper. When the people disobey and hunger to be “like the peoples of the world,” God vows that what they have in mind “will never happen” (Ezek. 20:32). Instead, God will protect his name, invoke “the bond of the covenant” (Ezek. 20:37) and pour out his wrath (Ezek. 20:33) so that the people will not “live by” the evil statutes they choose: they will not prosper. Years of God’s forbearance (whether then or now) must ultimately issue either in transformation or in judgment.

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2 Samuel 12; 2 Corinthians 5; Ezekiel 19; Psalms 64-65

Sep 15, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 12; 2 Corinthians 5; Ezekiel 19; Psalms 64-65

THE LAMENT FOR ISRAEL’S PRINCES (Ezek. 19) is at one level pretty straightforward. The lioness in the opening verses of the psalm is the nation as a whole, which gave birth to the kings. Then as now, the lion was the king of beasts, and so it readily served as a symbol for the royal Davidic line (e.g., Gen. 49:9; Mic. 5:8). In Ezekiel 19:10-14 the nation is the vineyard.

The kings Ezekiel has in mind in each section are pretty obvious. Jehoahaz is the first in view. He was captured and taken to Egypt in 609 B.C. (19:4). Jehoiakim is skipped, but the fate of Jehoiachin is made clear in Ezekiel 19:5-9. He was taken to Babylon in 597 (Ezek. 19:9). The fate of Zedekiah is played out in Ezekiel 19:10-14. If this poem was written about the same time as the surrounding chapters (i.e., about 592 or 591), then of course Zedekiah had not yet been destroyed (587). In that case, this section of the poem is predictive. Alternatively, Ezekiel may have completed the lament after the events of those days.

It is striking that the words do not simply portray the overthrow of a minor power by superior force, but the decline of the line and even the decline of the nation. That is part of the picture of the vine in Ezekiel 19:12-14. The nation itself became pathetically weak: “No strong branch is left on it fit for a ruler’s scepter” (Ezek. 19:14). The worst irony is that the fire that consumed the vine’s fruit “spread from one of its main branches”: the allusion is to Zedekiah’s rebellion, which in turn attracted the punitive expedition of the Babylonians. This not only put an end to the Davidic line, but virtually destroyed Israel’s national identity for many years. Within the theology of Ezekiel’s prophecy as a whole, of course, the ultimate cause of Israel’s overthrow was God himself, acting in judgment. But here it is clear that the mediate cause of the nation’s destruction was within itself.

That is neither the first nor the last time that a nation or an institution was destroyed from within. Readers of history may call to mind the Roman Empire, the Russian years under Communism, certain local churches, Christian universities, confessional seminaries, and on and on. They know that human institutions can never be so safely constructed that outcomes are guaranteed. For the heart of the human dilemma is so deeply rooted in personal sin that no structure can finally reform it. The lament for Israel’s princes becomes a lament for the human race, which desperately needs a solution far deeper and more effective than princes, presidents, and structures can ever provide.

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2 Samuel 11; 2 Corinthians 4; Ezekiel 18; Psalms 62-63

Sep 14, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 11; 2 Corinthians 4; Ezekiel 18; Psalms 62-63

THE CASE FOR INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY is perhaps nowhere in the Bible put more strongly than in Ezekiel 18. Yet it is important to understand the passage within its historical and theological context, before attempting to apply it to our own day.

The proverb quoted in verse 2, “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” is also found in Jeremiah 31:29, so it must have circulated both in Jerusalem and among the exiles. Apparently some people were using the saying as a cop-out: there was little they could do with their miserable lot, they were saying, since they were suffering for the sins of their fathers, about which they could do nothing. So instead of pursuing justice and covenant renewal, they were using the proverb as an excuse for moral indifference and tired fatalism.

Yet if it is not turned to such sad ends, the proverb does in fact convey some truth. In various ways, corporate responsibility does cross generational lines. At the giving of the Law, God himself declares that he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him—though of course this presupposes that these later generations continue to hate him. The preaching of Isaiah, of Jeremiah, and of Ezekiel himself threatens suffering and exile because of the persistent rebellion and idolatry of both preceding generations and the current crop of Israelites. We ourselves know that sin is often social in its effects: for instance, children from backgrounds of abuse often become abusers, children from arrogant homes often become arrogant themselves, or turn out to be broken and bitter. Sin is rarely entirely private and individualistic. The proverb is not entirely wrong.

When Jeremiah counters this proverb, the alternative he presents is eschatological—that is, the proverb will be overthrown in the last days, with the dawning of the new covenant (see meditation for August 3). Ezekiel’s point is a little different. God is concerned with every individual: “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son” (Ezek. 18:3). Moreover, whatever social consequences there are to sin, one must never use the proverb as an excuse to cover current sin. Individual responsibility always prevails: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4). That is the importance of the accounts of behavioral change in this chapter. They are not establishing some simple scheme of works righteousness. Rather, they insist that genuine religion is transforming, and no excuses (hidden perhaps behind a proverb) will suffice. The practical conclusion is found in Ezekiel 18:30-32, which deserves to be memorized.

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2 Samuel 10; 2 Corinthians 3; Ezekiel 17; Psalms 60-61

Sep 13, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 10; 2 Corinthians 3; Ezekiel 17; Psalms 60-61

A PASTORAL COLLEAGUE OF MINE, Dr. Roy Clements, has preached through a number of psalms under the series title “Songs of Experience.” The title is insightful. Though they are full of doctrine, the psalms are not summaries of doctrine. Many of them are, quite literally, songs of experience. In the Psalms, not a few doctrines become firmly planted in our minds, or their implications are worked out in our lives, precisely because they are heated up in the cauldron of experience. To put the matter another way, the existential value of many doctrines is best seen in the way they are worked out in human lives. So there are psalms of hope, of fear, of doubt, of exuberant joy, of forgiveness, of disappointment, of danger, of despair, of solitude, of contemplation. Many psalms plunge from one mood to another.

One of the psalms before us, Psalm 61, finds David hungering for the security that only God can give. When the psalm opens, David is apparently suffering from exhaustion or depression (Ps. 61:2). Perhaps when he penned these lines he was a long way from home: “From the ends of the earth I call to you” (Ps. 61:2). On the other hand this may simply be a poetic way of expressing how alienated he feels, how far removed from the living God. What he wants, then, is “refuge” (Ps. 61:3), “a strong tower against the foe” (Ps. 61:3)—or, in the line that has been incorporated into many hymns, he begs God, “[L]ead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2). This conjures up competing images: a rock that will provide shelter to a person beaten down by the sun, a rock that is a craggy redoubt—something far more secure than the man himself can be.

But the following verses show that the security David longs for can never be reduced to physical strength, “a strong tower”—a Maginot Line, a nuclear deterrent, a carrier task force. “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Ps. 61:4). The prayer for security has become immensely personal: David hungers above all for the presence and assurance of God himself. This God protects his own—and his own are those who have been granted the glorious heritage of fearing God’s name (Ps. 61:5). It is almost as if the precise nature of the security God affords gradually dawns on David. Each verse adds an ever-deepening grasp of the true ground of the believer’s security, culminating in this prayer for the king: “May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever; appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him” (Ps. 61:7). No greater security is possible. Small wonder David ends his reflection in unbounded praise (Ps. 61:8)—as must we.

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2 Samuel 8-9; 2 Corinthians 2; Ezekiel 16; Psalms 58-59

Sep 12, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 8-9; 2 Corinthians 2; Ezekiel 16; Psalms 58-59

IF EZEKIEL 15 PICTURES JERUSALEM as a useless vine (imagery that shows up elsewhere, e.g., Ps. 80; Isa. 5), Ezekiel 16 pictures Jerusalem as a prostitute.

The language is shocking, horrible—and it is meant to be. The long analogy begins as a rather extreme version of My Fair Lady: absolutely everything this woman enjoys, not least life itself, is the direct result of God’s gracious intervention. But quite unlike My Fair Lady, in which the man proves to be an unthinking and self-centered manipulator until the “lady” he has created out of a street urchin rebukes him, here God is the One who proves indomitably faithful. Moreover, he is hurt by the ingratitude and betrayal implicit in this lady’s constant pursuit of other lovers—i.e., other gods. She proves to be not only “weak-willed” but “brazen” (Ezek. 16:30). Worse, while prostitutes receive a fee for their services, this woman pays others so that she can sleep with them. Israel has not so much been seduced by idolatry or somehow been paid to engage in idolatry, as she has taken the active role and has paid quite a bit so that she can indulge in idolatry, precisely because that is what she wants to do.

The analogy is extended to talk about the older sister (the northern tribes, who went into captivity more than a century earlier because of their spiritual adultery). The Judahites like to think of themselves as superior not only to places like Sodom (proverbial for wickedness) but to the northern tribes; God says that Judah is so bad that by comparison the other two “sisters” look good (Ezek. 16:49-52).

The analogy works for four reasons. (a) It exposes the emotional horror of apostasy. Apostasy as adultery is seen for the betraying, despicable, hurtful, selfish conduct it really is. The issue is not freedom of religion (any more than adultery is freedom from sexual narrow-mindedness), but self-love and inconstancy. (b) Marriage can be seen as a covenantal relationship. Thus breaking the marriage covenant is inevitably reminiscent of breaking the covenant between God and the people he redeemed from slavery in Egypt. In both cases the apostasy/adultery is a flagrant defiance of solemn vows. (c) The imagery taps into a large biblical-theological theme that runs almost the entire way through Scripture: Yahweh is the bridegroom of the bride Israel; Christ is the bridegroom of the church; the ultimate consummation is the marriage supper of the Lamb. (d) All covenant-keeping requires the right sort of diligent remembering: re-read Ezekiel 16:43, 60, 61, 63—and reflect on 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

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2 Samuel 7; 2 Corinthians 1; Ezekiel 15; Psalms 56-57

Sep 11, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 7; 2 Corinthians 1; Ezekiel 15; Psalms 56-57

THE SUPERSCRIPTION OF Psalm 57 specifies that this psalm was written when David “had fled from Saul into the cave” (cf. 1 Sam. 22:1; 24:3). What we find, then, is something of the emotional and spiritual tone of the man when he could say, in effect, that “there is only a step between me and death” (1 Sam. 20:3). Some reflections:

(1) Even as he cries for mercy, David expresses his confidence in God’s sovereign power. The language is stunning: “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me” (Ps. 57:2). The title “God Most High” is not very common in the Psalms. Perhaps David is thinking of another man without a home, Abraham, who was more familiar with this way of addressing God. Certainly David does not think that somehow circumstances have slipped away from such a God. He begs for mercy, but he recognizes that God, the powerful God, fulfills his purposes in him. This mixture of humble pleading and quiet trust in God’s sovereign power recurs in Scripture again and again. Nowhere does it reach a higher plane than in the prayer of the Lord Jesus in the garden: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). In some measure or another, every follower of Jesus Christ will want to learn the anguish and the joy of that sort of praying.

(2) The refrain in Psalm 57:5 and 11—”Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth”—finds David not only in reverent worship, but affirming something believers easily forget, not least when they are under duress. Perhaps the clearest New Testament equivalent lies in the prayer the Lord Jesus taught us: “[H]allowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). Here David meditates not on God’s sovereign power, but on God’s sovereign importance. More important, for David, than whether or not he gets out of the cave, is that God be exalted above the heavens. The passionate prayer that willingly submerges urgent personal interests to God’s glory breeds both joy and stability: “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music” (Ps. 57:7).

(3) Rather striking is David’s glance at the orbit where he intends to bear witness: “I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Ps. 57:9-10). No truncated vision, this. And today as countless millions sing these words, David’s vow has been fulfilled far more extensively than even he could have imagined.

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2 Samuel 6; 1 Corinthians 16; Ezekiel 14; Psalm 55

Sep 10, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 6; 1 Corinthians 16; Ezekiel 14; Psalm 55

THREE OBSERVATIONS FROM Ezekiel 14:

First, the peculiar expression “set up idols in their hearts,” repeated several times with minor variations in Ezekiel 14:1-8, reeks of duplicity. Publicly there may be a fair bit of covenantal allegiance, but heart loyalty simply isn’t there. To set up idols in the heart is to separate oneself from the living God (Ezek. 14:7).

That danger is no less treacherous today than in Ezekiel’s time. Somehow we manage to adhere to our creedal profession, but if anything goes wrong our undisciplined rage shows that we maintain little real trust in the living God: our secret idol is comfort and physical well-being. We attend church, but rarely do we pray in private or thoughtfully read the Word of God. We sing lustily at missionary conventions, but have not shared the Gospel with anyone for years. And deep down we are more interested in our reputation, or in sex, or in holidays, than we are in basking in the awesome radiance and majesty of God. Meditate on Ezekiel 14:8, and ask for forgiveness and grace to become more consistent.

Second, those who set up idols in their hearts are the very people most likely to seek out a prophet or a preacher to keep up appearances and secure a little help along the way. But God says, “I the LORD will answer [them] myself in keeping with [their] great idolatry” (Ezek. 14:4). He will “entice” the prophets (Ezek. 14:9-11)—the word might better here be rendered “deceive.” God’s “deception” of the prophets is part of his judicial sentence. Yet it is a peculiar “deception,” for God’s revelation is already there in public Scriptures to be read and studied; moreover, he now openly tells the prophets of his judicial hand upon them. If they had an iota of spiritual sensibility, the warning would drive them to self-examination and repentance. But no: the sentence is pronounced, and they are deceived. Such prophets lie to the people, and the people like the lies and listen to them (cf. Ezek. 13:19).

Third, sometimes judgment becomes so inevitable that not even the presence of the most righteous would delay it any longer (Ezek. 14:12-23). The reasoning presupposes the theology of Genesis 18: God may spare a wicked city or nation for the sake of the just who reside there. But where wickedness overflows, not even the presence of Noah (spared from the Flood), Job (declared “blameless” and “upright,” Job 1:1), and Daniel (Ezekiel’s contemporary, serving in the Babylonian courts, renowned for his piety) will stay the disaster that God ordains. Indeed, when the exiles see the revolting conduct of the new refugees, they will realize how right God was (Ezek. 14:22-23).

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2 Samuel 4-5; 1 Corinthians 15; Ezekiel 13; Psalms 52-54

Sep 09, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 4-5; 1 Corinthians 15; Ezekiel 13; Psalms 52-54

IN ALMOST EVERY GENERATION there are both true voices and false. How can one discern between the two?

The question cannot be comprehensively answered by referring to only one passage. For instance, Deuteronomy 13 provides one framework that should be carefully thought through, but it is not the only one. Here in Ezekiel 13 the matter is cast not so much as a set of points to help the righteous discern between true prophet and false, but as a denunciation of all that is false. In so doing God provides at least a partial profile of false prophets.

(1) False prophets speak out of their own spirit, out of their own imaginations. They may think they have something from the Lord, but they do not. “Their visions are false and their divinations a lie” (Ezek. 13:6). This is not so much a principle that the onlooker can use, as a warning to the false prophets themselves. False prophets may deceive other people; they never deceive God. And it is to God that we will one day have to give an account (Ezek. 13:8-9).

(2) They do not deal with the fundamental issues of sin, corruption, injustice, and covenantal faithlessness. To use the metaphor of a walled city, instead of repairing the “wall” they merely cover it with whitewash, so that it looks sturdy enough to the casual observer even though it is hopelessly compromised. “You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD” (Ezek. 13:5), Ezekiel writes. A good storm strips away the whitewash and discloses the horrible weakness. The false prophets deal in omens and end-times fancies and promises of revival, but they do not declare the holiness of God and the odiousness of sin; they fail to bring people to repentance, faith, and obedience.

(3) They are more interested in auguries, telling personal fortunes, serving as “prophetic” personal hope-spinners, than in conveying the word of the Lord. They are not really serious people—except for their seriousness when it comes to getting paid (Ezek. 13:17-19).

(4) One of the larger effects they have is to discourage the genuine people of God. Too many false voices in a culture and many people become confused, disheartened, disoriented. Instead of maintaining a moral standard that reinforces righteousness, builds character, and encourages godliness, these people pronounce their curses and taboos on people God himself has not condemned, and exonerate the wicked so that they do not turn from their evil ways and so save their lives (Ezek. 13:20-23).

Where in our culture do these characteristics thrive? Where do they thrive in the professing church?

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2 Samuel 3; 1 Corinthians 14; Ezekiel 12; Psalm 51

Sep 08, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 3; 1 Corinthians 14; Ezekiel 12; Psalm 51

THE SUBSTANCE OF EZEKIEL 12 is easy to understand.

One can imagine the power in Ezekiel’s symbol-laden actions. In full view of the exiles, he packs his meager belongings in exactly the same way he would if he were a Jerusalemite preparing for a seven-hundred-mile march into exile. What he could bring would have to be carried on his shoulders. At night he digs through the mud-brick walls of his own house. Probably this symbolizes the futile attempt at breakout made by Zedekiah and those immediately around him (2 Kings 25:4; Jer. 39:4): they fled, but they could not escape. All of this Ezekiel does without saying a word, and then the next morning he delivers his message: “I am a sign to you. As I have done, so it will be done to them. They will go into exile as captives” (Ezek. 12:11)—with further explanations following (Ezek. 12:12-16).

The second symbol-laden action adds a layer to something already in place. So far as his public eating is concerned, Ezekiel is still restricted to the starvation rations imposed in Ezekiel 4:9-17. Now as he eats them, he shudders and puts on a display of terror and despair (Ezek. 12:17-20).

And then the stunning application. The people have heard a lot of prophets, and they have grown so cynical that they are circulating a couple of proverbs: “The days go by and every vision comes to nothing” (Ezek. 12:22); “The vision he sees is for many years from now, and he prophesies about the distant future” (Ezek. 12:27). After all, not only are there false prophets around, but even the true prophets like Ezekiel and (in Jerusalem) Jeremiah keep promising the destruction of the city while years pass with its mighty walls intact. Jeremiah has been at it for decades. Doubtless God sees the long delay as powerful evidence of his forbearance and mercy, providing multiplied opportunities for repentance; the people simply grow cynical. So judgment will certainly fall, Ezekiel says—and the popular proverbs will be destroyed.

Peter applies the same point to Christians, drawing from another Old Testament account. After the warnings began, the Flood was decades coming, and no one was ready for it except Noah and his family. So it is not surprising that in the “last days”—the days between the first and second comings of Christ, the days in which we live—new generations of scoffers arise and make a virtue of the same wretched cynicism: “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). But the Flood came. And so will the fire.

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2 Samuel 2; 1 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 11; Psalm 50

Sep 07, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 2; 1 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 11; Psalm 50

THERE ARE TWO HIGHLY SYMBOLIC actions in Ezekiel 11, one of them beginning in Ezekiel 10, the other entirely within the chapter at hand:

(1) Although it is difficult to trace exactly the movement of the glory of the Lord, it is reasonably clear that this glory, once associated with the temple—especially with the Most Holy Place and the ark of the covenant over which the cherubim stretched their wings—abandons the temple and hovers over the mobile throne. The same mobile throne Ezekiel had seen in Babylon is now parked by the south entrance to the temple. The four living creatures, now identified as cherubim, transport the glory of the Lord to the east gate (Ezek. 10:18-19), and then to the mountain east of the city (Ezek. 11:23). Thus the presence of God judicially abandons the temple and the city. Nothing stands in the way of their destruction.

(2) The picture of the cooking pot (Ezek. 11:3-12) conjures up the false sense of security that a strong, walled city could engender among its inhabitants. The Jerusalemites thought of themselves as the good meat within the “pot” of the walled city, nicely surrounded and protected. But God himself will drive them out (Ezek. 11:7). This city will not be a “pot” for them at all (Ezek. 11:11). The truth of the matter is that the Jerusalemites, whom the exiles were inclined to lionize because they were still there in Jerusalem, were extraordinarily arrogant. While the exiles pinned their hopes on them, the Jerusalemites themselves saw the exiles as so much rubbish, people rejected by God and transported far away from the land and the temple (Ezek. 11:14-15). Indeed, God says there is going to be a mighty reversal. True, God did scatter the exiles among the nations. But while they have been away, God himself has been their sanctuary (Ezek. 11:16)—which shows that the temple is not strictly needed for God to be present among his people, to be a “sanctuary” for them. Thus while the Jerusalemites will be destroyed (even as they dismiss the exiles as of no account), God will gather together a remnant from among them (Ezek. 11:17). Ultimately he will put into place a new covenant that will transform them (Ezek. 11:18-20). These themes are taken up in more detail later in the book (e.g., chap. 36).

The vision of chapters 8-11 ends with Ezekiel transported back to Babylon, telling the people everything he has seen and heard. The first strands of hope in this book have been laid out, but not in the categories expected. Jerusalem will be destroyed, and God’s purposes for the future center on the exiles themselves. How often in Scripture does God effect his rescue, his salvation, through the weak and the despised!

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