Thoughts of John

What is on my mind.

The Divine Spirit in Ezekiel

The ministry of Ezekiel took place during one of the most critical times of Israel’s history. Ezekiel makes allusions to current events that can

be gathered through extra-Biblical sources, like general summaries of history. Ezekiel refers to specific historical events that frequently are accurately dated. Ezekiel’s chronological system is based on the years of Babylonian captivity. Ezekiel being a captive is able to describe the destruction and restoration of Israel. Israel’s idolatrous worship caused the ten northern tribes of that nation to be taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 B.C. (all dates are approximate). The southern kingdom of Judah was spared Through revival, spiritual refreshment, righteous men like Isaiah and the leadership of a young man, King Hezekiah. Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, corrupted the hearts of Israel so badly that there was little genuine repentance. The Mosaic covenant would declare that the nation of Israel would be taken captive if they continually disobeyed the stipulations of that covenant. This was the only way to remove the wickedness of Israel and cause the people to return to Yahweh their God. In the world scene Babylonia had become a dominant power. They overthrew Assyria. Nebuchadnezzar began the Babylonian takeover of Judah. The nation of Israel entered into captivity under the Babylonians in 597 B.C. Zedekiah was the king of Judah between 597-586 B.C. Early in 588 the Babylonian army laid siege to Jerusalem having already destroyed the Fortress cities of the Judean hill country. Around 586 B.C. Jerusalem was destroyed and Judah had fallen. During this time of turmoil and unrest combined with the immorality of Judah that Ezekiel ministered. Ezekiel was both a priest and a prophet that preached to the exiled Jews in Babylonia the Lord’s judgment and ultimate blessings.

The Hebrew word in the Old Testament for spirit is “ruach”. In the Old Testament “ruach” is used to express God’s activity as he relates himself to the world, to creation, and to his people Israel. This is the way Israel described God as he communicated to the world his power, his life, his anger, his will, and his very presence. “Ruach” is most commonly translated “spirit” but can also be translated “wind” or “breath”. “Ruach” or “spirit” bears the background meaning of power, movement, and invisibility. The subject will not be “ruach” but “the spirit of God” or “the hand of God”. The “spirit of God” has a power to act in an extraordinary fashion, it dominates its subject and overwhelms the natural elements which stand in opposition. The movement of the “spirit of God” is completely on the divine side and can in no way be controlled or directed from the human side. The” spirit” moves where God wills it to go. God’s “ruach” as used in the Old Testament most of ten refers to his power, the divine energy, or to his wrath. Since the “spirit of God” is throughout the Old Testament it would be easier to identify and speak about the passages in Ezekiel that deal with the divine spirit, instead of the whole Old Testament.

The “spirit of God” is only spoken of in the visionary sections. The visionary section that will first be looked at is from chapter one to chapter three. The first verse that will be studied is Ezekiel 1:12: “Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turn as they went.” (NIV) In the context of chapter one Ezekiel sees a vision from God. The word “they” in Ezekiel 1:12 is the four living creatures mentioned in Ezekiel 1:4-5. Wherever the spirit would go the living creatures would follow. “By spirit we are to understand, neither the will of angels, nor winds, nor the soul of man, but the essential and eternal spirit of God.”1 “Each one went”, this means without dispute or delay the creatures went. The living creatures are a symbol of showing God’s divine power and manifestation above all living things. Next to be considered is 1:20-21: “Wherever the spirit would, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; For the Spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.” (RSV) The word “spirit” here is of the masculine gender. The wheels are unable to move independently, only in response to the spirit. Ezekiel uses wheels in order to teach us to see the spirit of God. In other words, it is God’s own spirit that is the power of the moving of the wheels. The wheels and the living creatures move according to God’s decision. The living creatures and wheels must move together at the same time. The movement of the living creatures and of the wheels together reveal that they have the same originating source of power. The living creatures are revealed to be cherubim in chapter 8 of Ezekiel. I would now like to consider 2:2: “And when he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me upon my feet; and I heard him speaking to me.” (RSV) The spirit that is spoken of in 1:20-21 is the same spirit in 2:2 that moved the wheels and the living creatures. The word for “spirit” in 2:2 is feminine in gender. The” spirit” entered into Ezek i e 1 along with spiritua1 energy which he felt within himself strengthening him and infusing his whole body. The word “spirit” also occurs throughout Ezekiel as “spirit of the Lord” or “spirit of God”. The spirit that takes Ezekiel and sets him on his feet shows the power of God. The next verses to be discussed are 3:12, 14:3 “Then the Spirit 1ifted me up; and as the glory of the Lord arose from its place, I heard behind me the sound of a great earthquake The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my Spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me.” (RSV) In the context of the first part of chapter three the Lord’s charge to Ezekiel is his absolute necessity of hearing, understanding, and to fully absorb God’s message before he goes forth in front of the people of Israel as God’s spokesman. God wanted Ezekiel to listen and not to rebel against him as Israel had, for Ezekiel was not to let the people pull him down to their level. Then is the entrance of verse 12. When Ezekiel says “the Spirit lifted me up”, it took place in a vision where the experience was under the constraint and force of the Divine Spirit. This energizing and power of the spirit shows the absolute control that God had over Ezekiel. It was the same divine power that lifted him up in 2:2. As the Lord arose Ezekiel heard a loud noise behind him as if it were an earthquake. The loud sound was caused by the “living creatures” and the “wheels” raising in glory the throne of God. Moving on to verse 14, Ezekiel is so overwhelmed by the power of God that he gains the same anger that God has toward the people of Israel. When the spirit lifted Ezekiel he was brought into sympathy with God. The phrase “heat of my spirit”, “points to anger as the dominant emotion in Ezekiel’s heart.”2 Ezekiel had natural feelings and rebellion towards his call from God, so the Lord’s hand had to be heavy upon him in order to subdue and control Ezekiel. The following is 3:24: “But the Spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet; and he spoke with me and said to me “Go shut yourself within your house.” (RSV) The spirit of the Lord was now starting to prepare Ezekiel to receive the message that he was to deliver to the Israelites. The Lord commanded Ezekiel to “shut thyself within your house.” This was to imply a time when Ezekiel was to cease from all public ministry to hear God’s word.

In the section of Exekiel 8-11, Ezekiel has another vision like that found in 1-3. The first verse to be looked at is 8:3: “He put forth the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy.” (RSV) The ‘spirit’ in 8:3 is feminine. When Ezekiel writes “He put form the form of a hand”, he is describing the effect upon the mind of receiving a vision, in other words, an ecstatic condition. “The ecstatic condition is not caused by the Spirit of Yahweh, but by the hand of Yahweh.”3 The touch of the “hand” was followed by the action of the spirit, for Ezekiel knew the vision to be more than a dream but a vision that came from God. “Many have attempted to find a distinction between the ‘hand’ that grasped and the ‘spirit’ that lifted Ezekiel. There is no difference. Both are metaphors for Him who can neither be imagined nor described.”4 The next to discuss is 10:17: “When they stood still these stood still, and when they mounted up with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in them.” (RSV) The “spirit” that is seen here is the same divine spirit that is identified in Ezekiel 1:21. The verse that will be described now is 11:1-5 “The Spirit 1ifted me up, and brought me to the east gate of the house of the Lord, which faces east. And behold, at the door of the gateway there were twenty five men; and I saw among them Iaazaniah the son of Azzuar, and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah, princes of the people.” (RSV) The “spirit” here is feminine. This verse is in a continuing vision from 8:1-11:24. In the context of the verse God moved Ezekiel in a vision to the east gate of the house of God to show him the perversion of the nation’s leadership. The twenty-five men in 8:16 are probably different men than the ones mentioned here. The “spirit” mentioned in 11:1 is the same energizing and directing power of the spirit indicated in Ezekiel 2:2. The next verse to be discussed is 11:5: “And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said to me, say, Thus says the Lord: So you think, O’house of Israel; For I know the things that come into your mind.”(RSV) The prophet is still in his visionary state as he pronounces judgment upon the leaders of Israel. This is the only place in Ezekiel that the “spirit” entered in, 1 if ted, took, brought, or set down. The” spirit” is feminine. But the word “said” is masculine. Thus spirit and word are coupled in the phrase “he said to me”. I would now like to discuss 11:24: “And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God unto Chaldea, to the exiles. Then the vision I had seen went up from me.” (RSV) The “Spirit” in 11:24 is identified as the “spirit of God”. “The Spirit which returned Ezekiel from his vision back to the reality of facing the exiles in his own house was the same divine energy which had carried him to Jerusalem by a lock of his hair (8:3).5 So Exekiel’s second vision comes to an end as he returns by the “Spirit” to the exiles by the Cha1dea.

In Ezekiel’s last vision section (33-48), he projects the restoration of Israel. The context for Ezekiel 35-37 can be divided in this manner. “Ezekiel IS previous message concluded with a description of the Lord’s preparation of the land of Canaan for the return of his people (36:1-15). This provided the natural transition from God’s removal of foreign oppressors from the land (35:1-15), to the subject of this new message: Israel’s restoration to her land. So that the Lord’s grace and mercy in regathering his people might be fully understood, the reason for their scattering among the nations is outlined by contrast (36:16-21). This is followed by a beautifully detailed portrayal of how the Lord would restore the people to the land (36:22-32), followed by the effective results of that return (36:33-38). As an encouragement to the Babylonian exiles, Ezekiel would conclude with an apocalyptic vision, illustrating the return of God’s nation to the land promised to their forefathers.”6 The first verse in this section is 36:27: “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” (RSV) The “Spirit” here is God’s divine spirit that is placed upon Israel. Ezekiel appears to base this passage from that of Jeremiah 31 :31-34. Jeremiah does not make any reference to the gift of the Spirit but he makes reference to putting “my law within them” and writing it “upon their hearts”. This clearly produces the same effect as that in Ezekiel 36:27. “V. 27 speaks of the guidance Yahweh provides for the individual believer, who will be aided by the spirit and enabled to walk according to the will of Yahweh.”7 I will be describing 37:1: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones.” (RSV) The bones represent the Israelites in exile. Ezekiel experiences the Spirit’s mobility in this vision. This mobility is not a physical one but a mobility of the mind. The “hand of the Lord” and the “Spirit of the Lord” are both the divine spirit of God. “The ‘valley’ is the same word as the ‘plain’ in 3:22, and probably the same location is intended.”8 The verse being discussed is descriptive of the vision and invites, comparison with 3:22, where “the hand of the Lord” led Ezekiel to the valley plain. “At that time the Lord delivered to the prophet a message of doom. The doom has been fulfilled to the utmost. Now, apparently in the same visionary valley plain, the prophet receives an oracle of hope.”9 The next verse to be discussed is 37:14: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.” (RSV) In this verse the spirit gives Israel their life, the spirit leads the people back to their homeland, and the spirit renews in them a conviction of the reality of the Lord. Whenever God brings the dead to life there is a creation. “In the time of the exile when the body of Israel appeared totally dead, the prophets saw at work the creative power of Yahweh giving new life to his people.”l0 The spirit of God gives life and likewise can also restore life to that which is dead. The restoration of Israel lies beyond the power of man but not beyond the power of God. There is a sequence of promise events in this verse. One, “you shall live.” Before Israel experiences a physical restoration their renewal of Faith must take place. Second, “I will place you in your own land.” This is when the physical restoration takes place. Thirdly, “You shall know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it.” The power of the Lord has completed the full restoration of Israel. Next to be discussed is 39:29: “And I wi 11 not hi de my face any more from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel says the Lord God.” (RSV) In the context from verse 25-29, God is telling Israel that he is in control of everything. This verse is telling the people of Israel that God’s presence with them can be realized through the spirit. “Only one other text in the Old Testament period uses the spirit of God with the meaning of presence, Psalm 139:7: “Whither shall I go from they Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”11 God in 36:27 and 37:14 promises to put his Spirit in his people. And 39:29 is a fulfillment of that promise. The next verse to be discussed is 43:5: “The spi rit 1 i fted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” (RSV) In verse 5, Ezekiel is talking about a restored temple. Verse 5 is the same energizing, powerful, and divine Spirit that is mentioned in 2:2; 3:12,14,24; 8:3; 11:1,5,24; and 37:1. Ezekiel uses “the glory of the Lord filled the temple” to show God’s presence in the temple with the verb of action (glory).

It can be learned in the study of the divine spirit in Ezekiel that the Spirit of God was invisible, dynamic, divine, mobile, and life giving. Ezekiel showed the people of Israel that God was present with them even though they were not in the promised land. Ezekiel taught the people that God would restore Israel back to the way it once was before they went into exile. And that Israel herself was not capable of restoring the promised land without God’s divine presence. But before anything could be restored, Israel had to have Faith in God.

END NOTES

1. Joseph S. Exell, The Biblical Illustrator:Ezekiel, (Michigan:Baker Book House, 1973), P. 13.

2. John B. Taylor, Ezekiel An Instroduction and Commentary, (Illinois:lnter-Varsity Press, 1969), P. 68.

3. Lloyd Neve, The Spirit of God in the Old Testament, (Seibunsha, 1972), P. 97.

4. Andrew W. Blackwood, Jr., Ezekiel Prophecy of Hope, (Michigan:Baker Book House, 1965), P. 72.

5. John B. Taylor, P. 113

6. Ralph H. Alexander, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Michigan:Zondervan Publishing Rouse, 1986), P. 919.

7. Lloyd Neve, P. 93.

8. John B. Taylor, P. 236.

9. Andrew W. Blackwood Jr., P. 222.

10. Lloyd Neve, P. 74.

11. Lloyd Neve, P. 78.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. EXELL, Joseph S., The Biblical Illustrator:Ezekiel, 1973, Michigan:Baker Book House.

2. SPENCE, H.D.M., EXELL, Joseph S., and PLUMPTRE, E.H., Pulpit Commentary:

Exekiel, 1950i Michigan:Eerdmans Publishing Company.

3. BLACKWOOD, Jr. Andrew W., Ezekiel:Prophecy of Hope, 1965, Michigan:Baker Book House.

4. TAYLOR, John B., Ezekiel An Introduction and Commentary, 1969, Illinois:Inter Varsity.

5. ALEXANDER, Ralph H. and GAEBELEIN, Frank E., ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary:Ezekiel, 1986, Michigan:Zondervan Publishing House.

6. SCHULTZ, A.C. and TENNEY, Merrill C., ed., The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1976, Michigan:Zondervan Publishing House.

7. The Holy Bible:Revised Standard Version, 1952, New Vork:Thomas Nelson & Sons.

8. THOMPSON, Frank Charles, The Thompson Chain Referenced Bible:New International Version, 1978, Mlchigan:Zondervan Publishing House.

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October 19, 2009 - Posted by | Bible, Bible Study, Biblical Interpretation, Christian, Christianity, God, Holy Spirit, Old Testament, Religon, Theology

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