Shipwreck

“ ‘The ships of Tarshish serve as carriers for your wares. You are filled with heavy cargo as you sail the sea.  Your oarsmen take you out to the high seas. But the east wind will break you to pieces far out at sea.  Your wealth, merchandise and wares, your mariners, sailors and shipwrights, your merchants and all your soldiers, and everyone else on board will sink into the heart of the sea on the day of your shipwreck.  The shorelands will quake when your sailors cry out.  All who handle the oars will abandon their ships; the mariners and all the sailors will stand on the shore.  They will raise their voice and cry bitterly over you; they will sprinkle dust on their heads and roll in ashes.  They will shave their heads because of you and will put on sackcloth. They will weep over you with anguish of soul and with bitter mourning.  As they wail and mourn over you, they will take up a lament concerning you: “Who was ever silenced like Tyre, surrounded by the sea?”  When your merchandise went out on the seas, you satisfied many nations; with your great wealth and your wares you enriched the kings of the earth.  Now you are shattered by the sea in the depths of the waters; your wares and all your company have gone down with you.  All who live in the coastlands are appalled at you; their kings shudder with horror and their faces are distorted with fear.  The merchants among the nations scoff at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.’ -Ezekiel 27:25‭-‬36

I have taken numerous trips to Haiti over the last 10 years or so and every time I fly into Port-au-Prince I am peering out the window to see if I can see a shipwreck that is visible just off the coast.  I am not sure when this ship met it’s end, but it must have been heartbreaking to sink so close to land. The shipwreck described in this passage must have been equally disheartening.

As I have chewed on this passage I have been reflecting on what typically causes ships to wreck.  Typically they either 1) encounter an immovable object that they were not aware of or could not avoid; or 2) they are overcome by wind or storms that are beyond the ships ability to stay afloat.  It struck me that both of these ways to wreck a ship would apply metaphorically to God.  He is certainly an immovable object which one would be wise to know about and avoid “running into”.  God also sends storms into our lives like those He sent into Job’s life.  I do not think He does this to “sink” us but rather to force our reliance on Him.  We can choose to allow our boat to be piloted by Him or we can take the reigns and take our chances.

In many ways this seems like a retelling of the story in the previous passage.  The added details here mainly relate to Tyre’s position and reputation as a trading port and to the “shipwreck”. The details described here remain reminiscent of a regional earthquake and rearranging of the shoreline. Especially the timing of shipwreck, “The shorelands will quake when your sailors cry out”.  Now this may be totally metaphorical and have nothing to do with an actual earth event, but if there were an earthquake near the coast it would not be surprising for it to generate a tsunami which could certainly wreak havoc for a ship if it was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There is also an almost ecclesiastical hopelessness and futility embedded in this passage. Like the passage immortalized by the Byrds in the sixties when they sang “Turn, turn, turn (To Everything There Is a Season)” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). All the running and sailing about with wares will end in a pile of debris on the bottom of the sea. It does not matter how much they know about trading or sailing the end result is the same.

I take this as a cautionary passage that we should not place our trust, or invest our time here on Earth, on ephemeral things.  We should have our eyes fixed on the horizon, and on God, so we can successfully navigate from this land of Oblivion to the undiscovered country.

Prayer: God help us to place our trust in you and keep our eyes fixed on what is important to You. 

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Trembling Coastlands

TyreThey will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea. I will put an end to your noisy songs, and the music of your harps will be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will never be rebuilt, for I the Lord have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord .  “This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Tyre: Will not the coastlands tremble at the sound of your fall, when the wounded groan and the slaughter takes place in you? Then all the princes of the coast will step down from their thrones and lay aside their robes and take off their embroidered garments. Clothed with terror, they will sit on the ground, trembling every moment, appalled at you. Then they will take up a lament concerning you and say to you: “ ‘How you are destroyed, city of renown, peopled by men of the sea! You were a power on the seas, you and your citizens; you put your terror on all who lived there.  Now the coastlands tremble on the day of your fall; the islands in the sea are terrified at your collapse.’  “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When I make you a desolate city, like cities no longer inhabited, and when I bring the ocean depths over you and its vast waters cover you, then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of long ago. I will make you dwell in the earth below, as in ancient ruins, with those who go down to the pit, and you will not return or take your place in the land of the living. I will bring you to a horrible end and you will be no more. You will be sought, but you will never again be found, declares the Sovereign Lord .” – Ezekiel 26:12‭-‬21

Today’s passage is a continuation of the description of the coming calamity for the city of Tyre, which is in modern-day Lebanon.  I did a little investigation in to this location because I was curious about all the talk in the previous passages, and this passage, about this location being under the sea in the future (“you will become a place to spread fishnets”).

When I investigated the location in Google Earth I learned two interesting things: 1) the ruins of the Phoenician City of Tyre described here are still quite visible along the southern shore of a peninsula in modern day Lebanon (33°16’06.62″ N 35°11’43.68″ E); 2) These ruins appear to extend out into the ocean almost as if part of the city was submerged.

God promises in this passage that the city will never be rebuilt after it is destroyed. Now there does appear to be a city of Tyre on the map which would imply that a city was rebuilt, but there is also the presence of the ruins of the older city which are still there.  Perhaps God meant that the city would not be able to exist at the location described here, which may be accurate. Either way it is interesting that there is abundant evidence still at this location to examine.

God goes on to talk about how this destruction of Tyre will impact those who live there and the surrounding towns. The “princes” are going to be freaked out by whatever happens so much that they will “sit on the ground, trembling every moment, appalled”. What is interesting is in the next couple of verses the very coast is said to “tremble on the day of your fall”. 

This could be completely metaphorical or describing an emotional rather than a physical reality, but I find three things interesting about the description of this event as a geologist: 1) the surrounding towns were apparently affected in some way (“all the princes of the coast will step down from their thrones and lay aside their robes”); 2) the coastline was “trembling” (“coastlands tremble”); 3) the location of the town was submerged (“I bring the ocean depths over you and its vast waters cover you”).  

All of these events are consistent with an earthquake, widespread chaos and damage, and associated land subsidence. Now all of these things could also be describing a battle or some other human event, but I do find to description odd for that sort of calamity.

I am not sure what larger message I can glean from this passage other than that God is God and we are not.  If he chooses to allow a town to be submerged under the sea, whether it be from an earthquake or some other event, so be it.  In this case it seems the reason was that the people of Tyre were taking advantage of the people of Israel while God was disciplining them.  Sort of like when you break up a fight and one of the parties takes a cheap shot while you have the other party restrained. Never a good place to be – between God and the subject of His wrath.

Prayer: God make your plans clear to us so that we do not get between You and those You are trying to correct.

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Open Doors

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the eleventh month of the twelfth year, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper,’ therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers; I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock. Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord . She will become plunder for the nations, and her settlements on the mainland will be ravaged by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord . – Ezekiel 26:1‭-‬6

This passage is one of a litany of judgments that are to befall the nation’s surrounding Israel if they take advantage of God’s judgement of Jerusalem. The nation of Tyre was an ancient Phoenician port city, in what is now Lebanon. God is warning the nation of Tyre not to take advantage of the destruction God has allowed in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, the city of David, is referred to in the passage as “the gate to the nations”.  In yesterday’s post God shared a hard prophecy with Ezekiel about his wife and the temple being destroyed. This is what God is referring to when he says in this passage “its doors have swung open” Taken literally, this might mean God does not want the nation of Tyre to rob and pillage Jerusalem while He is punishing Israel. This makes sense, but as as I have ruminated on this passage another meaning of this story has occurred to me.

At this point in history God is not ready to “open up the gates” of “the city” to the likes of the people of Tyre. God is still desperately trying to get the attention, and affection, of his chosen people, the Israelites. His special relationship with them is still pretty exclusive. Fortunately for me, and all other modern-day God followers, the snare has been broken and all who choose to do so can now enter the city (the kingdom of heaven) freely.

God says He will be against Tyre, bringing many nation’s against Tyre, like “the sea casting up it’s waves”. God goes on to say “I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock” – sounds like extreme erosion to this geologist. As many homeowners along the sea can attest, fighting the sea is often a loosing battle and one that is better to avoid.

The passage goes on to describe Tyre as, “Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets”. This description has me a little confused. It almost sounds like this coastal town will soon become part of the sea through land subsidence, a rising sea, or perhaps erosion? I will have to ponder the meaning of this murky metaphor as I continue down the river.

The take home for me from this passage is that God has extended His arm and opened the gates to all those who are willing to faithfully follow Him. We need not worry like the people of Tyre that we will be pounded into a pulp by wave upon wave of erosive seas.

Prayer: God thank you for opening the gates to all those who choose to follow You.

SDG
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A Fugitive Will Come…

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners.”  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.  Then the people asked me, “Won’t you tell us what these things have to do with us? Why are you acting like this?”  So I said to them, “The word of the Lord came to me: Say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. And you will do as I have done. You will not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners. You will keep your turbans on your heads and your sandals on your feet. You will not mourn or weep but will waste away because of your sins and groan among yourselves. Ezekiel will be a sign to you; you will do just as he has done. When this happens, you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord .’  “And you, son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes, their heart’s desire, and their sons and daughters as well— on that day a fugitive will come to tell you the news. At that time your mouth will be opened; you will speak with him and will no longer be silent. So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord .” – Ezekiel 24:15‭-‬27

God is sharing a personal prophecy with Ezekiel in this passage. He is predicting the death of a very important to person, his wife – “the delight of your eyes”. This is likely to be a rough bit of water and God wants Ezekiel to be ready. The water reference is to tears, samples of our souls, as we will see this is something God directs Ezekiel not to shed.

This must have been a hard prophecy to hear for Ezekiel – on par with some of the things Job went through as he faced wave upon wave of calamities in his life. God also seems to require Ezekiel  to “Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead”. So not only is he going to lose his wife, but he cannot even be sad about it. This teaching is right up there with some of Jesus’ teachings in the sermon on the mount in terms of level of difficulty, both to understand and to do.

It sounds like this passage is predicting the “death” of something very dear to the people of Israel, presumably the temple. Why would God remove Ezekiel’s wife and the temple?  I think the answer lies near the middle of the passage, when God directs Ezekiel to tell the people, “I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The issue, it seems, is the posture and perspective of the people. God wants to be the object of the people’s affection and the delight of their eyes before all else, even the temple.

The passage ends with an interesting riffle. On the very day that God is to take away their “stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes, their heart’s desire, and their sons and daughters as well” God sends a “fugitive”. The fugitive will restore Ezekiel’s voice and share “news” with him. It may be a stretch, but it seems that this part of the passage contains a reflection of Him. The coming “Fugitive” sounds a lot like a young man from Galilee that was a fugitive almost from birth (Matthew 2:13). This fugitive will share news, good news?

The take home message for me in this passage is that God wants to be the object of our affection, the delight of our eyes, and the stronghold in which we take pride. He has wanted that from the  beginning and He wants the same from us today.

Prayer: God help me to place you first in my life, and make you the delight of my eyes, and the object of my affection. 

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An Encrusted Pot.

Scale-in-DrainIn the ninth year, in the tenth month on the tenth day, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, record this date, this very date, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day. Tell this rebellious people a parable and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “ ‘Put on the cooking pot; put it on and pour water into it.  Put into it the pieces of meat, all the choice pieces—the leg and the shoulder. Fill it with the best of these bones;  take the pick of the flock. Pile wood beneath it for the bones; bring it to a boil and cook the bones in it.  “ ‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “ ‘Woe to the city of bloodshed, to the pot now encrusted, whose deposit will not go away! Take the meat out piece by piece in whatever order it comes.  “ ‘For the blood she shed is in her midst: She poured it on the bare rock; she did not pour it on the ground, where the dust would cover it.  To stir up wrath and take revenge I put her blood on the bare rock, so that it would not be covered. – Ezekiel 24:1‭-‬8

This passage continues the harsh rebuke that God has asked Ezekiel to share with Israel.  This time it comes in the form of a parable about cooking meat in an encrusted pot.
“A deposit that will not go away”, what an interesting turn of phrase, especially as a water scientist and chemist.

The technical term for this type of deposit is “scale”, and it is the bane of many a homeowner and water plant operator. It occurs when water passing through pipes, or cooked in pots, experiences changes in water chemistry or temperature which causes ions in the water to combine to form mineral precipitates (scale). Water with abundant ions which results in mineral deposits, is often referred to as hard water.

So to bring this back to the passage and what God is trying to communicate here – He is saying that the people of Israel are like an “encrusted pot”.  They have become ineffective at the the purpose for which they were designed.  Not only are they ineffective, but they seem to be using the gifts, skills, and resources (the meat in the pot) for something other than what God intended for them. Specifically, shedding blood and fighting battles that were not theirs to fight.

This passage is convicting on many levels.  In what ways am I encrusted and ineffective at what God has planned for me?  Am I using my gifts, resources, and skills to accomplish what God needs me to do or what I want to do?  Am I fighting battles that I should allow God to fight?  All very good questions to ask, although I am not sure I am ready to answer some of them.

Prayer: God help me to see ways that I have become encrusted and ineffective at accomplishing your plans.

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A Lion Tearing Prey

Again the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to the land, ‘You are a land that has not been cleansed or rained on in the day of wrath.’ There is a conspiracy of her princes within her like a roaring lion tearing its prey; they devour people, take treasures and precious things and make many widows within her. Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain. Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says’—when the Lord has not spoken. The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice. “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord .” – Ezekiel 22:23‭-‬31

Ezekiel is once again called upon in this passage to share a less than flattering word picture of the nation of Israel.  The nation of Israel, and its leaders, are compared to “a lion tearing its prey”.  Now there were probably those within the community that took this as a complement and an apt description of the way they were used to doing business. The people of Israel are not comfortable with their role as sheep being led by a Shepard – they would prefer to be lions in control of their own destiny.  There are many modern day God-seekers who have a similar problem – myself included at times.  Our culture likes winners and those who come across much more like lions than lambs.

The water comes into this passage when God describes the nation as “You are a land that has not been cleansed or rained on in the day of wrath.”  This seems to be saying something a little confusing.  The people are not treating God with respect yet He is staying His wrath.  Why?  Why not blast them and be done with it?  I suspect it the same reason we would not even imagine visiting wrath on our own children when they are doing something wrong.  There is a mixture of love and maybe even a sense of responsibility for the child’s actions.  How old does a child have to be before they can be considered the master of their own decisions?  How many times does a nation have to mess up to before it grabs a clue and begins to make better choices? It is a good thing that God is patient and has decided to extend His arm and stay His wrath for us rebellious sheep.

The passage suggests that even those who have been given the task of leading the nation spiritually, the priests, are lost in the weeds of greed and idolatry, “Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean”  This sounds eerily like the times in which we are living now. It seems sometimes that the idea of things being holy or set apart has “gone out of style” and it is very difficult to distinguish the clean from the unclean, or the bad from the good.  All seems to be mixed together into a grey goo of confusion where no one is able to discuss the objective good or bad of almost any choices we make.

The earthly leaders are not faithfully following God any better than the religious leaders, and are using their power, and view from the top, to do evil rather than good.  There is a sense that the leaders are taking advantage of those less fortunate than themselves.  They are being “unjust” and acting like wolves rather than shepherds. They are even putting words in God’s mouth, “this is what the Sovereign Lord says’—when the Lord has not spoken”.  This happens with modern day God followers too when they allow our worship and relationship with God to become encrusted with damaging traditions and dogma.

In the end God looses his patience and says that He will rain down his wrath on them because He has not found anyone to “stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land”. Fortunately for all of us who are still messing up like those in the passage God has found someone to “stand in the gap” for us, Jesus.

Prayer: God thank you for extending Your arm to save us even as we continue to mess up and confuse bad for good.

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Involuntary Reflexes

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel and say to her: ‘This is what the Lord says: I am against you. I will draw my sword from its sheath and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked. Because I am going to cut off the righteous and the wicked, my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north. Then all people will know that I the Lord have drawn my sword from its sheath; it will not return again.’ “Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.” The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Lord says: ‘A sword, a sword, sharpened and polished— sharpened for the slaughter, polished to flash like lightning! ‘Shall we rejoice in the scepter of my royal son? The sword despises every such stick.  – Ezekiel 21:1-10

This passage returns to the interesting, and somewhat irreverent, word picture of the legs of the people of Israel being wet with urine.  This is an allusion to the people of Israel being really afraid, so much so that they wet themselves.  This language was used previously in Ezekiel 7:14-22. God is not pulling any punches here He is making it clear that this exile thing is going to be hard and scary.

I cannot remember a time when I have wet myself due to being afraid.  I am not saying it has never happened, I just don’t remember any specific occasions when it happened. It implies a certain loss of control over something that we typically think is under control. It that sense it is an interesting choice for a word picture. The Israelites have in many ways been on “auto-pilot”, expecting God to allow them to wander into all sorts of idolatry and distraction.  They have allowed their relationship with God to become “involuntary”.  The exile will be a wake-up call of sorts and a testing of their wills.

God wants volunteers that are willing to walk with Him because we choose to do so not because we are compelled to do so by fear or involuntary reflexes.  He wants us to be in a constant state disequilibrium with this world so that we seek Him first. He wants the opposite of “involuntary” reflexes. He wants all of our choices to be intentional and consciously committed to Him.

I was Netflix surfing the other day and happened upon the movie “Young Frankenstein”.  I like this movie the other day. This movie has many interesting and morally questionable scenes, but bear with me here on this rabbit trail. This passage and the idea of voluntary and involuntary reflexes reminded of the scene near the beginning of the movie when Gene Wilder is giving a lecture the help of a “volunteer”. It does not end well for the volunteer or Gene Wilder’s character.

The subject in the movie has voluntary reflexes that are based on his emotions and feelings, and involuntary reflexes that are designed to protect his body from harm and keep it functioning properly. It seems the Israelites are making poor choices with their voluntary “reflexes” and they are bearing bad fruit. Their actions and habits are building patterns of “involuntary reflexes” toward God that are not helping them to grow a deeper relationship with Him. They are “wetting themselves with fear” in this passage, an involuntary reflex, because they have chosen fear over faith in the God who has made it clear that He wants to carry them like a son or daughter. They have become accustomed to choosing fear and turning to idols and false gods to obtain comfort rather than God.

The hidden well in this passage for me is the idea that our relationship with God can be subject to the spiritual equivalent of voluntary and involuntary reflexes.  Some things we choose to do to make our relationship with God stronger. The spiritual disciplines like prayer, reflection on  God’s words, and fasting improve our “involuntary” spiritual reflexes and provide protection for our souls. The interesting thing about our spiritual reflexes is that even our “involuntary” spiritual reflexes are born out of our experiences walking with God. Our choices determine the trajectory of our “involuntary” spiritual reflexes.

Prayer: God help us to choose to walk with you so that we develop involuntary spiritual reflexes that lead us toward You.

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