Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Ezekiel 47 – A stream is described coming out from under the Temple threshold, flowing eastward. Ezekiel’s guide takes him to the stream and has him wade across it at different points; it swells in size, becoming “a river impossible to cross” (47:5).
“Wherever the river flow, all living creatures teeming in it will live” (47:9). Life will flourish along the banks of this river.
The frontiers of the lands allotted to the various tribes are described here too. “You are to divide it into inheritances for yourselves and the aliens settled among you who have begotten children with you, since you are to treat them as citizens of Israel” (47:22). The division is made according to Ezekiel’s vision – horizontal tracts for all the tribes and for the sanctuary and the prince that all extend from the Mediterranean to the eastern border.
Ezekiel 48 – The tribes are listed and the lands assigned to them. The order of the tracts that all run from the Mediterranean to the eastern frontier are as follows: Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Judah; then comes the land dedicated to the sanctuary and the prince; then the tracts of Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun and Gad.
The new name of this great city will be “Yahweh sham” [sounds a little like Jerusalem] and it means “Yahweh-is-there” (48:35).
I think it is really important to remember how important the book of Ezekiel is. It is, with Jeremiah, the first glimpse we have of the new vision of Judaism that arises from the loss of its territorial focus. The religion of Yahweh will now be an inward faith and Ezekiel believed an inward rooting of religious law.
As Lawrence Boadt points out in his book, religion was no longer to focus on what the community did externally, but was to be rooted in the heart. Ezekiel stressed the roles of the Sabbath as a day of rest, reflective meditation on the covenant, personal uprightness, purity, and holiness. God would no longer accept people just because they were born Israelites; now they must “decide for God in order to live” (397).
This new vision would allow Israel to practice its religion no matter what happened to the land. Building on the preaching of Ezekiel, the priests and Levites took the traditions that had been handed down through the Yahwist and Elohist and expanded them with new material gathered from other areas of Israel’s life: the liturgies, songs, family records, and especially the laws that had been worked out over the centuries (398).
Revelation 15 – Next he sees seven angels bringing the seven last plagues that will “exhaust the anger of God” (15:1-2). The saved stand around with harps, singing a hymn of Moses and the Lamb:
How great and wonderful are all your works,
Lord God Almighty;
Just and true are all your ways,
King of nations.
Who would not revere and praise your name, O Lord?
You alone are holy,
And all the pagans will come and adore you
For the many acts of justice you have shown.
Then the sanctuary opens and the seven angels come out with the plagues. “The smoke from the glory and the power of God filled the temple so that no one could go into it until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed” (15:8).
Revelation 16 – He hears a voice from the sanctuary shouting to the angels to go and empty the bowls of God’s anger on the earth:
The first empties his bowl and all those marked with the mark of the beast came down with virulent sores.
The second empties his bowl over the sea, and it turns to blood – everything dies.
The third empties his bowl, and all the rivers and waters turn to blood. He hears the alter in the sanctuary proclaim the justice of the Lord’s punishments.
The fourth empties his bowl over the sun, and the sun scorches people with flames, causing them to curse the name of God.
The fifth empties his bowl over the throne of the beast, and the empire is plunged into darkness. They do not repent despite their pain.
The sixth empties his bowl over the Euphrates, and the waters dry up. From the jaws of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet, three foul spirits come looking like frogs. Able to work miracles they go out to the worlds’ kings to call them to war at Armageddon.
Finally, the seventh angel empties his bowl into the air, and a voice shouts that the end has come. There is lightning and thunder and earthquakes. The cities of the world collapse.
All of this kind of apocalyptic rhetoric – here and also in the Book of Daniel – is so hard for me to read and penetrate. How many people have thought this opens to them the mystery of life, of death and of history. Even if one supposed that God might at some point in history have stirred the imaginations of some holy men to deep insights on the destiny of man or the basic nature of God’s plan for us, the audacity anyone might have to claim complete understanding is just too ridiculous. To us today, the thought that God might just wipe out all life as part of some salvation plan is hard for me to appreciate. But that’s just me.