A NATION, A TEMPLE AND A PRINCE
In this last section of Ezekiel we deal with mysteries surrounding a nation, a temple and a prince, none of which have yet come to pass, at least not in the exact details Ezekiel spells out. Neither the temples of Solomon, Zerubabel nor Herod were built along the lines Ezekiel foresaw, nor was the land distributed after the exile according to the tribes in the manner prescribed by Ezekiel. Most of the tribes named were not there and do not exist to this day. As for the prince mentioned, who is or was he?
The details of Ezekiel’s temple vision are very concrete, until we come to the image of the river flowing down the steps and out through the city (ch. 47), an image that will reappear, with additional developments in John’s Revelation, chapters 21 and 22.
Unless something truly miraculous happens geologically and topographically, there is no way this could physically happen. Are these details of temple, city and sacrifice then an elaborate symbolic system that gives hope to the exiles of a restored national and spiritual life, with elements that can only be fulfilled spiritually, or at the end of history? Or is this, as some suggest, a temple and a system waiting to happen during a millenium era, just before “the end of all things?” Or even something that Israel will someday soon accomplish, even on the temple mount, over the Muslim Dome of the Rock, thus provoking Armageddon? (God forbid)
I prefer the first solution, that there is enough detail about temple, land, priesthood and sacrifice here to give the exiles some sense of continuity with Moses, the Exodus and the law, but with enough more that is impossible, so as to make this symbolic and ultimately, universal, such as the topography of the temple site.
The beautiful river image of Chapter 47 is an invitation to enter into the depths of God himself. Jesus borrowed from this imagery when, during the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, he said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”(Jn. 7:37-38). This motif is also picked up in beloved hymns, such as, “Oh, Have You Not Heard of That Beautiful Stream?”
The distribution of land for the tribes, the prince and the temple (which is technically not to be in Jerusalem) reinforces Covenant values of equity and of submission to God as Israel’s king. The prince’s power and wealth are closely circumscribed, so that no longer is there extortion, extravagance, inequity, idolatry or militarism. Here we see a return of something unique to the Mosaic law: separation of priesthood and government.
Of supreme importance is the return of God’s glory to the temple (Ch. 43) in the spectacular way in which Ezekiel saw it along the River Chebar, restoring what was lost and had left, in Ezekiel 10. That this never happened in Second Temple times lends credence to the symbolic, or apocalyptic, understanding of these chapters.
Or did the Glory re-enter the temple, when Christ came there as a child (Luke 2) and again to cleanse it of profiteers? For in Him we see “the knowledge of God’s glory, displayed in the face of Christ (II Cor. 4:6). There is much in Ezekiel’s stirring image of a new Israel that underlies Jesus’ ministry, and which he alone can and does fulfill, in surprising ways that include even Gentiles.
With the conclusion of Ezekiel we leave the literature of the major prophets for the minor prophets, so-called, not because of the relative importance of their ministry, as we shall see in the case of Daniel, but because of the scope of their writings recorded and passed down to us.
DANIEL, for being a “minor prophet,” still has a major impact, both because of his impact and importance for Israel, during and after the Exile, and because of elements that will transfer into the ministry of Jesus and the New Testament. Chief among these influences will be the “Son of Man” figure of chapter 7, after whom Jesus named himself.
The setting is laid out in chapter 1: Daniel was one of the elite, well-connected leadership class brought to Babylon in the first (597 BC) of two major deportations and three sieges, the last of which (586 BC) resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple and the ruling class. Ezekiel was also taken to Babylon in this same first deportation.
Not long into the new life in Babylon, Daniel experienced what most Judeans were experiencing: struggle over “how to sing the Lord’s song in an alien land” (Ps. 137). Diet, in the form of un-kosher and unclean food, was the first challenge of Daniel and the other young men taken into the king’s court. That Daniel meets the challenge with both sympathy for the chief eunuch and a trial tells us something about winsome witness today: sympathy/compassion for all, and a practical demonstration of the value and virtue of God’s way.
The second challenge (chapter 2) is more severe and costly: worship the king’s image or die. This reflects the ancient Near Eastern tendency to associate gods and monarchs, making either gods out of their monarchs, or intermediaries between humanity and divinity. While the exiles wish well by the king and the kingdom, worshiping him is not an option, and they are willing to tell the truth, respectfully, and take the heat, literally. That’s another clue to effective witness for us, God’s exiles, today.
That Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego survived the trial so dramatically is an anomaly: they were prepared to die. Future generations of Jews and Christians have taken comfort and courage from their firm but respectful witness, and many have died for it, waiting for the resurrection for their deliverance from the fire.
This is a theme we will see repeated in Daniel and other post-exilic Jewish literature: we mean well by the world and its people, high or low, but worship belongs to God alone. Count us in as responsible citizens, but don’t count us in on anything that smacks of idolatry. We submit respectfully to the rule of law, knowing that God is the ultimate law-giver, even to the point of submitting to and suffering the consequences when conscience forces us to disobey.
…is a royal psalm and a lament. The lament expressed is of longing for greater union and communion with God, the most basic of the heart’s cries. Our distance and detachment from God is the most “original” sin of our fallen condition. It is also a royal psalm in that a prayer for the king is included, a king who would be “enthroned in God’s presence forever.” Both aspects of Psalm 61 are answered in the person of Jesus, who offers to us, and prays for us, the kind of intimacy expressed in his high priestly prayer of John 17, “I in them and Thou in me.”