OT: Ezekiel 24:1-26:21
Wow, today's reading really helped me to focus my thoughts on the nature and meaning of life. And it reminded me, yet again, that the Bible's answers to those questions are vastly different from our natural answers. Our instinctive, animalistic impulses are very much at odds with the Bible's teachings.
According to today's reading, the most important thing in life is to know God. Knowledge of (and submission to) our Creator is more important than comfort, than security, than our relationships, than life itself. And when you orient your mind to that way of thinking, readings like today make more sense. They are still hard, but they fit into that bigger picture.
For one thing, God kills Ezekiel's wife and commands him not to mourn...in order to make a point. This action is yet another example of the idea that God treats His prophets like pawns in a chess game. I don't know about you, but my first impulse is to think that physical death should not be used as a metaphor. And yet, God thought that it should, and Ezekiel submitted to His judgment. Because the most important thing in life is knowledge of God and not relationships.
In chapter 25, Ezekiel gives a series of prophecies to various nations (Ammon, Moab, Seir, Edom, Philistia, and Tyre). In every case, the prophecies contain dire predictions of suffering and destruction. And in almost every case, they end with an explanation of sorts: "Then they will know that I am the Lord" (25:11; see also 7, 14, and 17). Come to think of it, that was also part of God's reasoning for the metaphor with Ezekiel's wife: "So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord" (27; see also 24). Apparently, "knowing the Lord" is higher on God's priority list than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!
That's all kind of crazy to me, and I feel compelled to give the caveat that understanding God's view of our lives does not negate the many, many teachings of the Bible that tell us humans to value life, to protect the lives of the helpless, to preserve life through service to our fellow man, and so forth. Certainly, deference to God's sovereign power over life should not produce an attitude of callousness toward the pain and suffering around us. Life is a sacred gift from God--it is not for us to take it away. But it does belong to God, and He can do with it what He wants. And these examples of God's perspective on life should help us Christians to put our lives in perspective, and not to cling to them as our highest priorities.
NT: Hebrews 11:1-16
Speaking of which, today we begin reading about "The Hall of Faith," which highlights many examples of people who understood the reality stated above. Because they valued knowledge of God over personal security, they were willing to step out on faith. Today's examples were Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. Because of his faith, Abel was murdered by his brother. Because of his faith, Noah was ridiculed as he labored for months (years?) building a seemingly ridiculous boat. Because of faith, Abraham left everything he knew and plunged out into the great unknown.
I love verses 13-16. Verse 13 notes that, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers here." If the "things promised" were the formation of the nation of Israel and the eventual coming of the Messiah, then most of these guys did not even know about the things promised. They just believed in God and did what He said to do. I also like the part about admitting that they were aliens and strangers. The more I read God's word and orient myself to His worldview, the more I feel like an alien or stranger. The idea that self-preservation is not my top priority should definitely make me stand out in a world full of beings longing and fighting to survive.
This is one of the psalms quoted by the author of Hebrews! I'm not sure, given his creative use of the psalms, whether he thinks that the whole psalm applies to Christ, or just the verses he quoted.
The example in this proverb proves that it's not just the thought that counts. Sometimes the best of intentions can end up causing more harm than good.