The End of Their World

“And when I shall extinguish thee, I will cover the heavens, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land,” saith the Lord YHWH (Ezekiel 32:7-8).

You either flock to “apocalyptic” passages of Scripture or prove at least a little apprehensive about them. They look weird. Hollywood could take notes on what is portrayed.

Many are convinced no such passage has been yet fulfilled since we have not seen such cosmic signs in the sky. Yet maintaining such an expectation unnecessarily literalizes prophetic imagery, creates impossible expectations, and misses out on the prophet’s main lesson. People read apocalyptic passages and expect the end of the world; the prophet is warning the people regarding the end of their world.

Ezekiel’s message regarding Egypt in Ezekiel 32:7-8 can help us better understand the nature of such “apocalyptic” prophecies. From 587 until 585 Ezekiel received a series of messages against Pharaoh and the Egyptians; one such message came in 570 and represents the final prophecy given by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 29:1-32:32). Ezekiel’s prophecy against Egypt remained consistent throughout: YHWH would send the king of Babylon and his army against Pharaoh and his host, Pharaoh would be humiliated, the people would suffer exile, and Egypt would no longer rise as a kingdom among the nations. Ezekiel 32:7-8 is given in this context; in Ezekiel 32:11, he explicitly associated this “apocalyptic” message with the promise of the arrival of the king of Babylon against Egypt.

This “apocalypse,” therefore, was expected quite soon. Nebuchadnezzar did send a Chaldean Babylonian army against Egypt in 567 to help deposed Pharaoh Wahibre (Apries) regain his throne against the upstart Ahmose II (Amasis). The invasion proved unsuccessful. The Egyptians would not experience an exile in the way Ezekiel originally promised, but the “apocalypse” would come upon their land: Ahmose’s son Psamtik III would be defeated by Cambyses king of Persia in 525, deposed, and exiled to Susa. Egypt would be incorporated into the Persian Empire, and beyond a brief stint of home rule in the 4th century BCE, would continue to serve as a pawn for successive empires until 1953 of our own era.

For us today such a conclusion might seem underwhelming, and not much of a fulfillment. It does not seem sufficiently dramatic to us. Yet consider the situation from Ezekiel’s own perspective. When he was born around 622 BCE the world around him remained as it had been for the better part of 500 years: sure, the kingdoms of Israel and Aram had fallen to the Assyrians, but the Assyrians still ruled, Babylon laid in wait, Jerusalem stood, and Egypt remained as it had been for millennia. A visitor from a few centuries earlier would have recognized that world. By the time Ezekiel received these messages from YHWH, Assyria had fallen, no longer a going concern; Chaldean Babylon was now ascendant; Jerusalem had been destroyed. Within another century Persia, in Ezekiel’s day one among many peoples subject to the Medes, would conquer the known world, eliminating both Babylon and Egypt as independent nations. This was a completely new world; nothing like it had ever been seen. Surely the collapse of the Late Bronze Age kingdoms proved more catastrophic, and yet even then Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt remained. Babylon had been founded in 2300 BCE; Assyria, 2500; Egypt, 3100. Within one century all would fall, never to rise again. All of them had in their own way oppressed Israel the people of God; all of them were denounced by the prophets; all thus endured the Day of YHWH.

Therefore, even though by our standards we might find it hard to accept these “apocalyptic” prophecies met their fulfillment, the historical evidence makes it difficult to argue otherwise. Assyria was at the apex of its power under Ashurbanipal who died in 631 BCE; who could imagine it would be destroyed 20 years later? Josiah of Judah oversaw a renaissance in Judah; within 25 years of his death Jerusalem and its Temple would be destroyed, and the Davidic Kingdom of Judah would never rise again. Nebuchadnezzar presided in Babylon as king of the world; within 25 years it would all become the possession of a king and a nation which was not even an independent force when he died. Ahmose II and his fellow pharaohs of the Twenty-Sixth dynasty presumed to restore the glory of Egypt and imitated Old Kingdom art; yet Egypt in their day would become subject to distant foreigners, and would remain so for about as long as it had enjoyed independence. All of these collapses happened suddenly. The world had not ended; but their world was gone, never to return.

If we understand the gravity of the events which took place between 625 and 525 BCE, we would recognize how imagery like the sun, moon, and stars turning dark is more than appropriate. Everything the people of the nations had taken for granted for centuries, if not millennia, was suddenly overturned. For anyone who was invested in the status quo which had developed in the first half of the first millennium BCE the events proved to be an unmitigated disaster.

No one would come out the same. Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and the small surrounding nations would undergo Hellenization after the conquest of Alexander the Great, syncretizing their cultural and religious ideologies with those of the Greeks. Some Judahites would return from Babylonian exile, yet they would not return to the syncretized ways of their ancestors; Second Temple Judaism would prove as uniquely distinct from the practices of the days of the Solomonic Temple as it would from the Judaism which developed after the second Temple was destroyed.

Such is how it goes with “apocalypses.” The world does not end, but the world will never be the same again. A world has come to an end.

As Christians we confess Jesus as Lord of lords and King of kings; we recognize the nations of the world are empowered by God but enslave themselves to the powers and principalities over this present darkness (Romans 13:1, Ephesians 6:12, Revelation 13:1-18, 19:16). We look forward to the day on which the Lord Jesus will return and fully defeat death, the final enemy, and receive unto Himself all of every nation who serves Him, and to share in eternity in the resurrection of life (1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Revelation 20:11-22:6). In the meantime we have every confidence that the nations and their fates remain in the hands of God just as they did in the days of the prophets; the fact John can see judgments on Rome in terms of the judgments against the nations according to the prophets provides such testimony.

To this end we might well experience “apocalypses” as we await the ultimate Apocalypse, the final appearance of Jesus, the Son of Man and Risen Lord. These “apocalypses” are not the end of the world, but they will represent the end of a world. They might be personal in nature; they might afflict a particular group of people; they may afflict a nation or the entire world. In these times things people took for granted and assumed to be predictable become so no longer. What used to be “normal” becomes impossible. Life might well go on for many, but it will not look like it did before.

God has never promised to remove us from such forms of distress, but He has left us the same promise He has always left His people in difficult times. He will strengthen and sustain us through whatever we must endure, but only if we turn to Him and cling to Him as our refuge and strength. Ultimately we have no basis in confidence and reliance on any thing in this creation, and “apocalypses” remind us of this: they all fade and fall apart (1 Peter 1:23-25). At the same time, nothing in the creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31-39): no force can tear us away from God. In Christ we can endure anything as long as we maintain our faith and trust in Him come what may.

No one ever asked to live through an “apocalypse.” No one wants to experience a day and time in which metaphors of cosmic dislocation seem just about right or perhaps even a little understated. And yet according to God’s sovereign purposes such times come upon mankind. They end a world; but they have not yet ended the world. They have often allowed for transformation and new life to grow. Whether we live in times of comfort or distress, stability or “apocalypse,” we do well to maintain our confidence in God in Christ, and not in anything He has made, and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Son of Man

I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).

“Son of Man” is one of those phrases that everyone has read and regarding which most just keep on reading. We get the understanding as we read that Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of Man (e.g. Matthew 16:13-16, 16:21, 17:22-23). It might strike us as odd for Him to do so; why all of these references to the “Son of Man” if He is indeed the Son of Man? Why describe Himself as such? What difference does it make?

“Son of man” is an interesting way of describing Jesus considering that it has a long history of being used to refer to all different types of people. “Son of man” is sometimes used in parallelism with “man” (e.g. Numbers 23:19, Job 16:21, 35:8, Psalm 8:4, 80:17, Isaiah 51:12, Jeremiah 49:18). It is almost exclusively the means by which God addresses the prophet Ezekiel (e.g. Ezekiel 2:1, 3). Daniel the prophet is also described as a “son of man” (Daniel 8:17).

The phrase may seem a bit odd to us, but it makes complete sense in Hebrew. A “son of man” is a human being. There are many times in Hebrew when a person or persons are spoken of as “sons of” someone or something. A wicked person is sometimes described as a “son of Belial” [e.g. Judges 19:22, often translated “base fellows” (ASV), “worthless fellows” (ESV)]. The Ammonites are almost always spoken of as the “sons of Ammon”; for that matter, the Israelites themselves are time and time again referred to as the “sons of Israel.” A “son of man,” then, is a human being.

So why the constant emphasis on this phrase, especially in the life of Jesus? How can Jesus refer to Himself as the Son of Man if Ezekiel and Daniel before Him were “sons of men”?

Jesus is reckoned as the Son of Man on account of the prophecy in Daniel 7:13-14, in which “one like a son of man” came before the Ancient of Days and received dominion, glory, and a kingdom. This “one like a son of man” seemed awfully like the same One who would be the rock destroying the kingdoms in Daniel 2:41-44, and consonant with the Branch from David described in Isaiah 9, 11, and in many other passages. Thus, this “one like a son of man” is the Messiah, the Christ, and it was so understood in Jesus’ day.

But why that description? Why does Jesus own it so? Perhaps part of the reason involves the language used. The “man” of “son of man” is frequently the Hebrew word ‘adam, which also refers to dirt or land in many contexts; it is also the name/description of the first man Adam. Thus, in a sense, the Son of Man is the Son of Adam, the Son of the ground. Perhaps God calls Ezekiel the “son of man” to remind him that he is but mortal and dust while God remains immortal and spirit. Yet Jesus is God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14, 18, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). And that is precisely why He refers to Himself as the Son of Man so frequently!

It was as easy then as it is now to get so caught up with Jesus’ divinity and spiritual power that His humanity is forgotten. Daniel quite clearly sees one like a human being receiving dominion, glory, and a kingdom that does not end– it is not a disembodied spirit or some immanent entity beyond our comprehension, but Someone who experienced the same types of things we have experienced (cf. Daniel 7:13-14, Hebrews 4:15, 5:8). God the Son condescended to the point of taking on the form of dirt, being the Son of Man– the Creator taking on the form of His creation (John 1:3, Philippians 2:5-7). As “the” Son of Man, He was just like the other humans around Him– the humans for whom He lived and died to redeem.

Gnosticism– the overemphasis of the spiritual, theoretical, and the abstract so as to reject the physical, practical, and the concrete– has been a challenge in the church since the beginning. But the idea of Jesus as the “Son of Man” entirely does away with this. Flesh cannot be entirely bad; God the Son took on the form of flesh. The body is not necessarily the enemy; God took on a body in Christ, had it transformed for immortality in the resurrection, and in that form “like a son of man” received all power and authority (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 42-57). We cannot just give up on the creation since God refused to do so and continues to refuse to do so (Romans 8:17-24, Hebrews 1:3).

Does it make a lot of sense to us that God would become man and live as man? No, of course not! Yet whereas every other religion exalts men to the position of God, it is only in Christ do we see God descending to become a Son of Man. It is a great mystery, but one for which we ought to be most thankful. Jesus reminds us through His words that He is not just the Son of God but also the Son of Man; let us praise Him for suffering with us and for us and redeeming us for the hope of the resurrection in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Know That I Am YHWH

And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am the LORD (Ezekiel 6:7).

Thus we see the first example of a persistent theme throughout Ezekiel’s prophecies– the LORD (YHWH) has made a decree of violence, pestilence, plague, and famine against Judah and Jerusalem, and when the terrible events of the destruction of Jerusalem and Temple and the Babylonian Captivity come upon the people of Judah, they will know that “I am YHWH.” This phrase– “they/you will know that I am YHWH”– occurs repeatedly throughout Ezekiel (e.g. Ezekiel 6:10, 13, 14, 7:4, 7:27, 11:10, etc.). But why is this such a major theme in Ezekiel?

Is it because the Israelites do not know anything about YHWH? One would be forgiven for receiving such an impression throughout the Old Testament. Yet we see in Ezekiel 8:12 that the people speak about YHWH; false prophets bring messages of peace to the people in the name of YHWH (Ezekiel 13:2, 10). If you were to ask the people of Judah about YHWH, they would agree that YHWH is God, that He is the God of Israel, and even that He delivered the Israelites out of the land of Egypt long before. So how come we have this persistent declaration that the people of Judah will know that “I am YHWH”?

Is it because they do not believe that YHWH is Lord? This again is hard to believe. While other prophets speak in the name of YHWH, Ezekiel often declares that he speaks in the name of “Lord YHWH” (cf. Ezekiel 2:4, 3:11, etc.; this is often missed in translation because it will be rendered as Lord GOD or something of the sort). We never see anyone challenging Ezekiel, declaring that YHWH really is not Lord. Furthermore, we do not see God saying that the people of Judah will know that He is “Lord YHWH.” No; Lord YHWH is speaking to them, declaring that they will “know that I am YHWH.”

So if the people of Judah know that YHWH is God, Lord, even the God of Israel, why do they have to learn that He is YHWH?

The people of Judah do not really accept that He is YHWH, for they have been serving other gods and committing all sorts of abominations (cf. Ezekiel 6:3-13, 8:5-18). They might admit that YHWH is God, and that He is the God of Israel, but that does not stop them from believing in Tammuz the god of the Mesopotamians, the Baals, Molech, the Queen of Heaven, and to do all sorts of things that YHWH condemned.

Ezekiel is rather likely going beyond the surface of the statement to its inner meaning. Sure, Israel believes that YHWH is her God. But YHWH is not just “a” god– He is God, the Existent One. In Ezekiel 8:12 some of the people believe that YHWH does not see them. How can the Existent One not see them? How can they think that the Existent One is not entirely and always aware of their thoughts, intentions, and actions?

Therefore, the Israelites know YHWH only as one god among many; they do not know YHWH as the Existent One, the One, the Only, All-Sovereign God. They will only come to terms with this reality when everything they have is taken from them. Only then can they see clearly that all the other gods are nothing, and in serving them they have offended the Existent One.

Do people today know YHWH? Most people profess to know God the Father and the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Most people believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, that He is Lord, that there is a heaven and a hell– and most believe that they are going to heaven. But do they really know YHWH the Existent One? Not when they go and serve other gods; not when they hold firm to their own views of how God “must be” even if those are contrary to the way that He has revealed Himself; not when they pursue after the things God warns His people to avoid, and run from the things which God tells His people to pursue. We only can demonstrate that we know Lord YHWH when we submit to His Son to seek to accomplish His will and not our own (Romans 12:1, Galatians 2:20).

The day is coming when everyone will know that “I am YHWH” (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5-11, Philippians 2:9-11). And, just as with Israel, when that day comes, it will be too late for the people to come to repentance (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Hebrews 9:27). It will be a fearful day if we only come to know that “I am YHWH” on the final day, having spent our lives in foolishness that greatly offended the Existent One. Should we think that the Existent One is not entirely and always aware of our thoughts, intentions, and actions? Should we be so foolish as to think that “YHWH does not see us”–or, its modern variant, “God is dead”? The Existent One is always there. It is in Him that we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28); nothing will escape His notice. Everything will come under judgment. Therefore, let us submit to the Existent One as He truly is while we still have time– let us serve God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ and know that He is YHWH!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Watchman

Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me (Ezekiel 3:17).

This is not exactly the job for which everyone is running to apply.

The job of the watchman was never very glorious. Depending on the circumstances, it was either quite boring or extremely tense. The watchman did exactly that– watch. He would stand on a city wall or on a tower on the wall and look for signals from neighboring cities or looking out for approaching enemy armies or bands of marauders. To be a most effective watchman one would have to find a way to be on the alert at all times even though nothing would likely happen for the majority of the time. Nevertheless, when the warning call did need to be made, time was of the essence. An alert watchman who warns of the danger in advance might likely save the town; an indolent or sleeping watchman might unwittingly mean its destruction. But the worst of all would be the bribed watchman– the one who may betray the town for his own advantage!

God is giving Ezekiel a rather thankless task. Living near the Chebar river in exile, Ezekiel will not be very effective at watching out for the physical enemies of Israel. Instead, God appoints Ezekiel as a more “spiritual” watchman. His task is to warn the Israelites of spiritual dangers. He must warn the wicked to cease their wicked ways. He must warn the righteous to not turn toward wickedness. If he warns them, and they do not listen to him, they stand condemned but he is absolved. But if he does not warn them, and the wicked persist in sin and/or the righteous turn toward sin, they will be condemned and God will require their blood from Ezekiel’s hand (Ezekiel 3:18-21)!

The rest of the story of Ezekiel is the demonstration of how he faithfully communicated God’s message to Israel even though far too many did not obey. He warned; they did not listen; the blood was not required from his hand.

Sadly there always seems to be plenty of need for watchmen. Very few people enjoy being told that they are wrong and that their standard of conduct is unacceptable before God. This has almost been codified in our own day as law under the guise of relativism– what is wrong to one may not be wrong to another, and who are any of us to judge any other? While people remain quite happy to take advantage of some blessing or encouragement from their fellow man, if anyone dares to even suggest that some of their beliefs or practices are wrong, out come these pleas for tolerance and relativism. “You have no right to judge me.” “Just because you think that way does not mean that I do not have to.” “Get out of my business.” This last comment gets to the heart of a lot of people’s attitudes: I am my own master. No one has the right to tell me what to do. I am not accountable to anyone else. And do not believe for a minute that it is just the secularists who say such things; if you ever dare to suggest to many who profess belief in Christ that some tenet of their doctrine or practice is wrong, the same line of logic is employed. The deck anymore seems quite stacked against anyone who would go against the grain to stand up to declare as wrong what God says is wrong and right what God says is right!

We should hasten to note that God gave a very specific charge to Ezekiel and gave him particular responsibilities that came with specific revelations and direction that we no longer have. There can be no national “watchman” or “watchman” for the universal church since there is no authority for such a position and no prophetic revelation to go along with such a position.

Nevertheless, in the New Testament, elders are entrusted with the shepherding of the members of the local congregation with which they work (1 Peter 5:1-4), husbands are entrusted with the spiritual direction of their families (Ephesians 5:22-6:4), and all Christians are entrusted with the encouragement and exhortation of their fellow members within the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Galatians 6:1-4). Every elder and husband will be called into account for how they worked with those under their responsibility and for their direction; every Christian will be called into account as to how they encouraged and exhorted one another (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 13:17). There is definitely an element of the “watchman” in these roles. And all believers are charged to reflect the light of Christ to the world, and that light stands as a testimony against the darkness (Matthew 5:13-16, John 1:4, 9-13).

“Watchmen” also need to watch themselves, as Paul encourages in Galatians 6:1-4. We all need warning sometimes. We all need a word to encourage us to do the right and avoid the wrong. When wrong is being done and nothing is said about it, the wrong is made to seem right, or, if nothing else, justified. How many times have people persisted in sin for want of that word of exhortation that shows that the sin is sin and ought to be avoided? How many have perished for lack of proper encouragement and exhortation?

Warning must be made to avoid sin. Exhortation must be given to encourage righteousness. Everyone ought to be humbled and chastened by their own transgressions into realizing that the task of sounding out that warning is nothing to relish or enjoy. But it must be done. Let us remember that we are accountable to God. Let us remember that we should be thankful that someone is willing to care enough to warn us about the possible dangers of our behavior. And when we warn others, let us keep our own weaknesses and transgressions in mind, remembering that the goal is to show the love of God toward others so that they will not perish but might obtain eternal life. Ultimately, we all stand or fall before Jesus our Lord for what we have done in the flesh; we will not be judged for what others have done, but we will be judged for how we related to others (cf. Romans 14:1-12). Let us avoid sin and seek to serve God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

God’s Ways

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’
Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’
O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” declares the Lord GOD.
Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:25-30 ESV).

There had been a proverb in Israel for many generations: the fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge (cf. Ezekiel 18:2). The idea was that children bear the iniquities of their fathers. The idea made sense to them. Apples don’t far too fall from the tree, in general, and children act in similar ways to their parents. God Himself warned the people that He would visit the iniquity of fathers upon children for multiple generations (cf. Exodus 20:5).

Nevertheless, the concept was faulty. While it was true that children often had to suffer directly and indirectly for the sins of their fathers, and that God would punish one generation and perhaps not the ones before it, it was not true that children bore the iniquities of their fathers. God explains quite clearly in Ezekiel 18 that the soul that sins will die for his sin, and the soul that does what is right will be saved, regardless of how their father or son might act. Furthermore, if the sinful repent, they can be saved; likewise, if the righteous plunge into sin, they will be condemned.

But Israel does not like this message. It is not consistent with the way they look at it. So what do they do? They declare that the way of God is not just!

It is not my intent to get into the complexities of the nature of the discussion here; instead, it is quite interesting to note how Israel is quite willing to declare the Author of justice to be unjust when it does not suit their perspective. Their definition of what is “just” or “fair” is different from God’s definition, and they have figured that their definition is the right one.

We can see the arrogance of their position! How dare they declare God unjust! If God is the Author of Life and all that is good and holy (Genesis 1), and if He loves justice (Psalm 33:5), how can He be declared unjust by mere humans? As it is written:

Thou wilt say then unto me, “Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will?”
Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?
Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, “Why didst thou make me thus?” (Romans 9:19-20).

The Israelites were quite in the wrong, as the creation, to declare the Creator to be unjust. If they did not repent of such folly, they would stand to be condemned!

While we can step back and see how arrogant the Israelites were, have we stopped to consider if we have done the same?

Some may be so bold as to declare the way of the God as not being just or fair. Others may not declare it by word but do so by deed. Too many will attempt to subtly change God’s message, or interpret the message in a way that is more consistent with their worldview.

But the end is all the same: if we do any such thing, we are declaring that we know better than God, and our ways are more just than His ways.

In the new covenant, God has provided salvation for all who are willing to hear and obey (1 Timothy 2:4, Romans 6). That may very well mean that people who sin terribly and yet repent may be saved while some who did not live so sinfully may be condemned (1 Timothy 1:12-16, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). It very well may mean that sincere people who thought that they knew about God find out that they really did not know Him and will pay the penalty (Matthew 7:21-23). It may mean that things we think are right or fair or just are not right, fair, or just according to God’s standard (Matthew 19:3-9, Galatians 5:19-21). It may even mean that people who worked all their lives for God’s purposes will receive the same reward as the prodigal son who returns to God later in life (cf. Matthew 20:1-16).

Many people hear such things and declare God to not be just. And who are any of us to declare His ways unjust? In so doing, we are no better than Israel, and should expect the same fate. Let us not presume to judge the qualities of God, but instead praise and thank Him for the opportunity to be redeemed from sin and death and to obtain eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry