A Temple for Exiles

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 40.4
4 The man said to me, “Son of man, look carefully and listen closely and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the people of Israel everything you see.” 

Reflection: A Temple for Exiles
By John Tillman

It would be difficult to find an event shocking enough to us that would compare to how the Israelites felt about the razing of Jerusalem’s temple. Perhaps the fire in the cathedral of Notre Dame would come close. Perhaps the collapse of the twin towers on 911 would approach it. 

There is more, however, to the fall of the temple than it being a place of worship or an extraordinary costly loss. What made it most shocking was that the people thought it was invulnerable. They thought it was such a holy place that God would not allow it to fall.

The irony is that the very people who were banking on God protecting the temple because it was holy were the ones making the temple an unholy place. The worship there was annoying to God in its myopic hypocrisy and selfishness. (Isaiah 1.13-15)

Fourteen years after the destruction of the Temple and twenty-five years into his exile, Ezekiel is given a vision of the temple and the city restored.

The city is described in minute detail, being measured out by a figure whose appearance is “like bronze.” Bronze is often used as a metaphor for strength and spiritual beings are often depicted as having bodies “like bronze.” Christ appearing to John on Patmos, the angel who visits Daniel, and Ezekiel’s measuring man all have features or portions of their bodies described in this way. (Ezekiel 1.5-8; 40.3; Daniel 7.19; 10.6; Revelation 1.15; 2.18)

This temple’s measurements do not match the one Ezra would build nor do they match Herod’s renovation that Jesus would visit, cleanse, and teach in. This temple is for the exiles.

Watching this new, improved temple being measured must have been an incredibly moving experience for Ezekiel. It must have brought joy and hope to those who followed Ezekiel’s teaching.

This temple, not made by human hands, also may have been inspiring to the followers of Jesus who envisioned the New Testament church as God’s new temple and believers as priests. The church is a temple for exiles. (Matthew 21.12-16)

God is measuring out a temple of living stones which rest upon the chief cornerstone of Christ. (Psalm 118.22)

May we, in priestly humility, draw close to worship him even amidst our exile.
May zeal for this living temple, exceed our zeal for earthly kingdoms. (John 2.14-17; Psalm 69.9)
May we, living stones, cry out praise to him.
May we be a house of prayer for all nations.
May we be a temple for exiles.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The same stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. — Psalm 118.22

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 40  (Listen – 8:21)
Psalm 91 (Listen – 1:39)

Read more about Treasuring Our Temples
It is difficult to overstate how confident Judah was that God treasured the Temple and, for the sake of his name, would never allow it to be defiled or harmed.

Read more about Comfortable Prophecies
O God, help us not be misled by false prophets offering comfort instead of truth.

Repurposed Weapons

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 39.9-10
9 Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up—the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel. 10 They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel. 

Reflection: Repurposed Weapons

By John Tillman

Ezekiel describes a future war against God’s people that is ended through supernatural means and has an unlikely outcome.

John, in Revelation (Revelation 20.7-11), makes direct reference to this earlier prophecy from Ezekiel, revealing that it is Satan that deceives Gog and Magog, leading them in warfare to their destruction. (Revelation 20.9)

This apocalyptic prophecy is full of poetic symbolism without a simple, decipherable, literal interpretation. An interesting detail is that the weapons left behind by the fallen enemy army will be used as fuel by God’s people for seven years. 

We don’t often cook over fires anymore and modern weapons would not leave much wood behind but that does not mean this vision is unfulfilled. This image is part of a repeated theme in prophecy that humanity’s tools of warfare and destruction will be remade into implements of peace and cultivation. 

What is intended for evil will be used for good. Wooden weaponry will be fuel for cooking fires. Swords will be beaten into plows. God takes weapons that are intended to end life and turns them into tools that bring life. Look at what he did with the cross. 

The Romans and religious leaders thought the cross would end Jesus’ life. The Roman Empire thought that if crucifying Jesus wasn’t enough, they’d crucify thousands of his followers. But the cross couldn’t end the life of the church any more than it could end the life of Jesus. 

The wooden weapon of the cross became a symbol that fuels hope. Every empire that has opposed it has fallen. Hundreds of Empires since have thought that violence by blade, fire, or bullet could stop the church and the gospel. Yet, every empire that opposes it will fall.  The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God. (Revelation 11.15)

Our world, and Satan who rules it, wants us, like Gog and Magog, to be their weapons. “Used in their wars. Used for their gain.” (Rich Mullins, “Higher Education and the Book of Love”) Tragically, we are often deceived and march to war with them, but in Christ we, who have been weaponized, can be remade, recycled, and repurposed. 

May we no longer be swords and shields but basins and towels. (John 13.5
No longer murderers but nourishers.
No longer aggressors but comforters.
No longer destroyers but cultivators.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you: O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not worship a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” — Psalm 81.8-10

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 39  (Listen – 4:51)
Psalm 90 (Listen – 2:03)

Read more about God of all Nations
To serious students of scripture, it seems ludicrous that we must repeat that God is not American, not White, and not partial to any race. But repeat it, we must.

Read more about Of Pride and The Sword
Despite how Egypt, or any nation, postures itself, those who live by the sword will fall by it. Those who profit by violence will face justice.

A Prayer for Crisis—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 89.46-49
46 How long, LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? 
How long will your wrath burn like fire? 
47 Remember how fleeting is my life. 
For what futility you have created all humanity! 
48 Who can live and not see death, 
or who can escape the power of the grave? 
49 Lord, where is your former great love, 
which in your faithfulness you swore to David?

Reflection: A Prayer for Crisis—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Scholars are divided on whether Psalm 89 was written by the same “Ethan the Ezrahite” who was a contemporary of David or whether it was written later by a contemporary of Ezekiel and other exiles. Regardless of when it was written, it shows us a helpful and repeatable pattern of prayer for those in suffering, doubt, frustration, or crisis.

The psalm contains three distinct movements of thought. In the first section, the psalmist praises the power of God over the cosmos. From the highest court of the heavens, he rules over things seen and unseen.

In the second movement, the writer describes God’s vision and purpose for humanity. The Lord promises an intimate, fatherly, guiding relationship. David stands in as a symbol for both the nation of Israel and for the role of Jesus who will be the “Son of David” to whom those longing for deliverance will call. (Mark 10.46-52)

In the third, the writer laments the sin of his people and that God seems to be abandoning them to suffering and allowing his purposes for them to fail. Despite this lament, or perhaps because of it, the writer ends with a challenging view of hope. The psalmist trusts that God will save, that wrongs will be forgiven, and justice will be done. 

A Prayer for Crisis — Guided Prayer
Praise God for who he is and acknowledge him as the king and creator of all. He is more than just the source of all life but the source of all joy, love, and justice.

Review for yourself the assurances we have in his promises to us. That we will be made like him. That we will suffer, but with him and in his power. That we will be forgiven. That we will be his images, his sons and daughters, representing him.

Express to him your doubts and fears. Tell him what you don’t believe and ask him to help you believe. (Mark 9.23-24) Tell him how you feel without fear of rejection. Tell him what you fear without being shamed.

Praise him that he is the Lord, forever. Eternal life is not just in the future. It is now. Abundant life is not just pie in the sky. He is with us now. Praise him that he is with us forever.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The heaven of heavens is the Lord’s, but he entrusted the earth to its peoples. — Psalm 115.16

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 38  (Listen – 4:23)
Psalm 89 (Listen – 5:29)

Read more about Forgiveness to Soften the Hardened—Worldwide Prayer
There is no level of spiritual achievement or growth at which one is not susceptible to hardening of the heart and the spirit.

Read more about Meditation in Spiritual Rhythm
A few hundred years ago, meditation was not considered radical or strange, but simply a prudent, practical, and effective Christian discipline.

Kiss of Righteousness and Peace—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 85.10
Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Reflection: Kiss of Righteousness and Peace—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

When love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss each other. But before that happens in today’s psalm, there is confession and justice, mercy and redemption.

Today, we repeat this meditative prayer based on Psalm 85. Confession, justice, mercy, redemption, righteousness, and peace are just as vitally needed today as they were two years ago. 

Psalmists were familiar with sinful leaders and scandals. Like today, horrendous consequences were paid by the people for the poor leadership of kings and high officials. Sheep always suffer for the sins of shepherds, but yesterday’s passage was also clear that the sheep are not innocent and too often turn on each other.

May we bring righteousness and peace together in our lives and communities.

The Kiss of Righteousness and Peace
We cannot reach the kiss of righteousness and peace without passing through wrath and anger via forgiveness.
You, Lord, forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.
You set aside all your wrath
and turned from your fierce anger.
We waste no energy on denial. We will not rise in anger when accused.
On our knees in humility, we thank you for your forgiveness.
Restore us again, God our Savior,
and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
Every generation blames others.
The old blame the young.
The young blame the old.
And young and old, turn together,
to blame those long dead and those not yet born.
By your watch, Lord, generations are meaningless.
A ticking of the second hand of God.
We will deny no longer the sins of the past.
We will decry no longer the sins of the future.
They are all ours. The blame is on us.
We confess now that there is no “other” generation to blame.
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
We are like Lazarus, lain dead in the grave.
You let him die in his sickness,
So that he could be raised.
Raise us, Lord. Bring us back to life.
Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.
May we meet with you and you with us.
May our steps follow in your righteousness.
May we bring your kiss of peace to our world.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people. — Psalm 66.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 35  (Listen – 2:21) 
Psalm 85 (Listen – 1:25)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 36  (Listen – 6:40), Psalm 86 (Listen – 1:39)
Ezekiel 37  (Listen – 5:07), Psalm 87-88 (Listen – 2:45)

Read More about Praising Christ’s Righteousness
We cannot save ourselves. Praise God. God specifically tells Ezekiel that not even the greatest, most righteous men he might trust in would be able to save the nation.

Read More about Battered with Love :: Worldwide Prayer
Oh Lord…You battered me with love, you assaulted me with mercy,
You pierced me through with compassion
and turned my sorrows into peace.

Tendencies of Unfaithful Shepherds

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 34.2-6
Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. 

Reflection: Tendencies of Unfaithful Shepherds
By John Tillman

God comforted Ezekiel, who sang the song of God’s love faithfully and beautifully to people who refused to listen and obey. Then God confronted the prophets and priests who were unfaithful. 

To modern ears, Ezekiel’s description sounds like flamboyant, prosperity gospel hucksters with pockets and clothing as gilded as their voices. This extreme visual, however, can cause us to miss deeper problems. God is less concerned with the wealth of the shepherd than with the health of the flock. 

In reality, most pastors live fiscally and morally responsible lives. Yet, a pastor can abuse power without ever accumulating a fleet of private jets. A pastor can abuse trust without ever being exposed in a sex scandal. Unfaithful shepherds place their own security and power before the health of the flock. Caring for others as a shepherd almost always goes against our self-preservation instincts.

In a beautiful pre-visualization of Jesus’ earthly ministry, God tells Ezekiel that he, himself, will come to the scattered sheep. He himself will search for them, gather them, heal them, and care for them.

Wise shepherds could draw from this passage a self-assessment tool: 

  • Are the weak strengthened or are the “sleek and strong” subjecting the weak? 
  • Are the sick healed or do the healthy shame the sick? 
  • Are the hurts of the wounded bound up or are the angry ignored so they will limp away alone? 
  • Are people treated tenderly or is failure or dissent crushed with authority and malice? 
  • Are the strays and the lost brought home or do those who called this home stray? 

Jesus had compassion on the masses because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9.35-38) Those who should have been binding up the weak, were instead “binding up heavy burdens” and not lifting a finger to help. (Matthew 23.1-12)

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day and Ezekiel’s fellow prophets became unfaithful shepherds for similar reasons. Power and recognition were more attractive to them than service and selflessness. Control and authority were grasped by them rather than mercy and humility. Law and order were enforced by them rather than doing justice and righteousness. Unfaithful shepherds have these tendencies in common.

May we, and our shepherds be more like Jesus. May we seek and support earthly shepherds like him, who with mercy, humility, justice, and righteousness, gather, feed, guide, protect, and heal.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else, “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, ‘I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.” — Luke 18.9-14

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 34  (Listen – 5:11) 
Psalm 83-84 (Listen – 3:20)

Read more about The Purpose of Power
The idea that the rich can’t be bought is a fallacy. In some cases, saying the rich can’t be bought is like saying an alcoholic won’t want another drink.

Read more about The Sin Which Fells Nations
From Isaiah we can learn that what looks like a great and powerful nation may actually be a spiritual wasteland of pride and greed.

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