Kamis, 27 November 2008
Ezekiel: Prophet of the Resurrection
I want to give a perception or perspective of the issue of Israel, and one that I can freely commend, if indeed we have serious intention of being an apostolic and prophetic body, which is to say, an authentic expression of the 'called-out' ones;the church. There is something that needs to be fitted into our end-time perception, and it is the issue of Israel, so central, in my opinion, to the final and consummating purposes of God. What is more, the issue of Israel profoundly involves the church. We cannot talk of things prophetic without some kind of expression of this theme. It is a theme that is so dear to the heart of God, and should be therefore so to our own hearts
This is so enormously important. The issue of the Jew and the issue of Israel is in fact the issue of the church. God has locked these two entities into a reciprocal relationship, that the one without the other cannot come to its full fulfillment in the purposes of God. It behooves us, therefore, to give careful attention to this mystery, the mystery of Israel and the church, lest, as Paul says, "...you be wise in your own estimation ('conceits' - King James Version of the Bible)...(Rom. 11:25b)."
When Paul says in Romans 11:15, "For if their (Israel's) rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" , we can be sure that that thought had its origin in the 37th chapter of the prophet Ezekiel.
Israel will bless all the families of the earth, but not in her present condition, character and mentality. Blessing is more than a slap on the back, a chuck under the chin and some kind of platitude. To confer blessing is nothing less than a royal priestly prerogative. It is a palpable thing that is actually communicated and conferred in priestly authority and power. If ever there was a generation that needed to receive blessing by those who can bless, it is this generation. We are steeped in curse, but where are the people who have priestly authority? It is a question for the church and it is a question for Israel, for no one else has that privilege or that right or that call. Ezekiel chapter 37 speaks of a nation brought to the end of herself that she might finally come into her call of a nation of priests and a light unto the world:
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. And He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. And He said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' And I answered, 'O Lord God, Thou knowest.' Again he said to me, 'Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord God to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the LORD ' (Ezekiel 37:1-6).
The fact that they shall know that 'I am is the Lord' is evidently important to God. The whole object of the entire process of the death and resurrection of Israel is for this one thing: "And you will know that I am the Lord." Why is it so important that they should 'know' beyond any other nation? This is not Talmudic knowledge nor academic knowledge. This is existential knowledge. This is the knowledge of a God who raises the dead, and until we know God as the God who has raised us from the dead, then we do not know Him at all. Why is that so imperative for Israel? It is because the only way that they can bless all the families of the earth is by communicating the knowledge of God as He in fact is, that is, the God who raises the dead. Their communication of that truth will be more powerful than any other knowledge because they will have known it as the fact of their national existence. If there is no other reason for the death and resurrection of Israel than this, then that is reason enough. They have a destiny as a nation of priests and a light unto the world. The world does not need more religion, more humanism, more charismatic fun and games. It desperately needs the knowledge of God as He in fact is, namely, the God who can raise the dead and make those things to be which were not.
It is evidently only an extremity of being, reduced to this condition and being raised from this condition, that will confer that knowledge. How dear is the knowledge of God to us? How extensive or deep is that knowledge? Do we know Him as He in fact is? Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses and other sects and heresies are not the only forms of deception. There are countless numbers who count themselves 'Christian', who recite the correct doctrines of the faith, and who are as much deceived and out of the faith as a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness, even though they employ the vocabulary of the faith. That is why the Scripture tells us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. We are not to think that because we say the right things and have the right reality that we are in the right place. We do not know Him as we ought and the true knowledge of God is always expensive. How far will we allow God to bring us in extremity, trial and dealings in order to come to a knowledge that will enable us to stand in these last days?
So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew, and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, 'Thus says the Lord God, 'Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life (verses 7-9).'
They are the slain of the Lord, evidently the people who have suffered through the final and yet future desolation and ruin that has brought their cities into utmost destruction. This either means physically slain or slain in terms of having any hope of restoration or meaningful existence as a nation.
A Resurrection Word
Sin is death, and Israel's death will be in exact proportion to Israel's sin and it will be a very real death. The raising from that death will be something that will have to come to the nation outside of itself. Its death will be so complete that it will have no ability even to call on the Lord. Something must come to it outside of itself, as it came to Lazarus when he was in the tomb, dead for four days, namely, a prophetic word of resurrection.
This is no mere, religious word. This is a word of an ultimate kind that raises the dead, a 'come forth' word, and only a resurrected 'son of man' or 'son of God' can speak it! Israel will remain in her grave unless our word is resurrection life in that power, no matter how well meaning and desirous we are for her resurrection. We cannot be to them the agent for their resurrection unless we ourselves are first of the resurrection. We ourselves must have gone into the waters of death and not once and for all, but a death that will be daily, otherwise we cannot be a corporate 'son of man' with one mind, one heart, one soul and one will that God can command to address those bones in a once-and-for-all explicit moment historically.
It is remarkable how singular God is, that He will not depart from the principle of His glory which is resurrection or nothing. He makes no concession. It was required for His first begotten Son and thus for everything that pertains to His glory.
Then said He to me, 'Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, 'Thus says the Lord God, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life."' (Ezek. 37:9).
God commands the prophet to prophesy to the Spirit (ruach, breath), that He would come from the four winds of the earth and breathe on the bones. The Spirit is the breath of God, and it is implying that the prophet is to command God. Try and follow that. It is one thing to speak to bones and quite another thing to speak to God. You know when you are dead when you can speak to God in the way that He commands you to address Him contrary to your own instinctive deference. In other words, this is the most sensitive, gossamer thing, where if you are going to have a last resistance to God, it would be here: "Lord, far be it from me to command You. I am just dust. I am just a son of man. Are You are requiring me to command the Spirit, which is to command You? No, no, I have to draw the line. I mean, that is impolite. That goes too far. I am willing to address the bones, but I cannot command You." Unless the prophet, however, commands the Spirit of God to come into the flesh and bones that have been joined, then the house of Israel remains dead. They only become an exceeding great army when the Spirit comes into them. It sounds like the height of presumption and arrogance that man, who is a creature, should command the Creator, yet I intuit that there is a deeper significance. The 'I cannot' is the last vestige of 'spiritual' self that has got to go.
It is something parallel to taking your son, your only son whom you love, and making him a sacrifice. In other words, there is a delicacy of some final strand of self-will and independence that may even be legitimate, that is even God-honoring, and yet behind it can hide the last vestiges of self and independence from God. It can only be broken in what seems to be an act of disrespect because He has commanded it. God asked a man to kill his only son, who is the son of promise, and yet it is in that obedience that God spoke, "...now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me (Gen. 22:12b)."
I believe that it is something like that here: "Now I know by this"...You have obeyed me though it contradicts the last residue of your spiritual self that is offended by the very thought that man should be presumptuous so as to command God; but until you have obeyed Me in this, I do not have you in full." It is an obedience unto death of the last subtlety of self that is even spiritual and God-honoring and God-respecting, behind which the palpitation of our self-life might yet continue. Until God has that, He does not have us in the totality with which He must possess the individual.
The word that is used in Hebrew here is 'rûwach', or 'breath'. It may well be that the translators could not bring themselves to the affront that this represents, and so they had to use the word 'breath', as if you are commanding natural elements rather than the very Spirit and breath of God Himself. We have to be alert to that possibility because the Hebrew word is clear. It is the rûwach of God, the Spirit of God. For those who have ears to hear, hear it; for those who have faith to understand, receive it; and for the rest of you, keep it on the shelf or put it before the Lord, and see if He is not touching that final, delicate and last strand that still keeps a man or a woman from that total surrender. It would be the final irony, that the last thing is our own spirituality that keeps us from total surrender. It is not our carnality, but the last delicate thing is spirituality itself. How jealous God is that He might be all in all, "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Rom. 11:36)."
A nation brought to extremity
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off (verses 10-11).'
This is the pivot of this great chapter. Historically, to my understanding, there has never yet been a time when Israel, as a whole nation, has acknowledged that it is, 'cut off, without hope and as dry bones.' We die hard. We do not give up easily. We are an indomitable people. We are the inveterate optimists, not in God, but in ourselves. Not even the Holocaust resulted in this statement. We gathered up our rags and found ourselves in new places and established our fortunes. We went to Israel, which was a wasteland, and drained the malarial swamps and established a modern civilization. We resuscitated the liturgical Hebrew language and in forty years made it a modern language for a nation. It is a supreme accomplishment. We are a formidable, capable people with great expertise and prowess. Has such a people ever acknowledged that, 'We are cut off, we are without hope, we are as dry bones?'
In fact, the phrase that came out of the experience of the Holocaust, which is as close to dry bones as we have ever historically been, was the macho insistence of: 'Never again'. It was far more stringent and far more militant. "You Gentiles took advantage of us in our ghetto helplessness, but now we have a state that no-one will be able to take from us." That statement should never be made in the face of the God who intends to be their Strength, Redeemer and a place to run into and find safety. Israel's whole political posture today is predicated on the proud and defiant note struck by 'Never again'. God is required to bring down that nation that thought it could be its own defense. 'Never again' is predicated not at all in a confidence towards God to keep us, but in an ability to keep ourselves. It is a supreme confidence in oneself and in one's own ability. God's intention with Israel is ultimate and therefore it requires ultimate dealing. God is waiting for and will bring the whole nation to come to that recognition.
Israel's national anthem of today is entitled, 'The Hope,' Ha Tikvah. It is the hope in man. It is the hope in human ability. It is the hope of what the State will represent for a people that have been stateless and without nationhood for two thousand years since the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Dispersed throughout the whole Roman empire, we have been living in ghettoes and in countries where we were persecuted and had to be in the gates by a certain hour at night. We are a people that were used for merchandise and cut off from occupations and careers. Lowly and disregarded, we have suffered immeasurably in the hands of the nations wherever we happened to find ourselves.
If only we had our own nation and not be at the mercy of Gentile nations, then we could show the Gentile nations the uniqueness of what a Jewish nation is. It would be more than a place of safety in the world. It was to be a place to exhibit the uniqueness of what a Jewish civilization and nation is, because we are proud about this one thing: that even when we were in the ghettoes, and even when we were powerless, we had this distinction above the Gentiles,we were morally and ethically superior. It is a wonderful fantasy to enjoy when you are powerless, but when you have power, do you know what you find out? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is why God has allowed the establishment of the present State of Israel. It was never established to be the permanent and enduring prophetic fulfillment of Scripture, but a necessary and instructive preliminary. "He takes away the first that He might bring the second." "First the earthly, then the heavenly." Our mistake is to celebrate the first as being the enduring, not recognizing that it was given, like the first begotten son, to die. That is what Jesus had to experience in the brilliance of His humanity. As the Son of Man, He had to be brought to death in order to be raised as the Son of God and to be exalted on high, and given a name above every name and the millennially exacted nation must itself follow in the path of its own Messiah.
To invest your hope, even in a nation, is still idolatry. Hope is only a hope when it is in God. Anything less and other is a form of idolatry however much the nation itself is a thing to be desired. God must rid us of false hopes until He establishes Himself as the Hope.
There must first be the natural because we have something to learn from it, namely, that however gifted and capable we are, we cannot establish a nation that will "bless all the families of the earth." We might impress the families of the earth, but we cannot bless them. There is something higher than morality and ethics, namely, the holiness and righteousness of God, and you cannot fabricate that out from human intention.
When everybody was about to begin to celebrate and rejoice for the success (in only forty years!) of such a State, something began to happen that is called the Intifada, the Palestinian uprising. It started with the throwing of stones that today is going beyond stones and Jews are being stabbed to death and blown up in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem itself. That thing has multiplied and become such a threat, within and without, that the nation has been required to act defensively in ways that it would never would have thought possible. Would it not be ironic if history comes full circle and Jews, who were formerly the victims of others, would now be required to victimize another out of the necessity to preserve their Statehood, their existence and assure their survival?. When you trust in the arm of flesh for survival, how far will you go for your own preservation, if God be not your safety?
It would be a shame on us, should we ever join the world in the chorus of condemnation against Israel for her failures to be a moral and ethical nation, and for her increasing use of violence, brutality and expulsion. We have not understood that they must fail; that God Himself is the Author of their predicament; that things are set in motion by which they must show themselves violent; that they must disappoint themselves; that they cannot be the hope for a nation that they had intended until they come to such a final impasse of such desperation, futility and hopelessness, that they cry out with one voice, "We are cut off, we are without hope, we are as dry bones", in terms of any fulfillment for which they could have hoped for as a nation.
The Death Before the Resurrection
This people has got to come to a time where their problems are so insuperable, so beyond solution, that they themselves cannot save themselves. If we do not understand that the perplexities that afflict Israel are God-given and that Israel's increasing failure to resolve those perplexities is also God-given, we will find ourselves inevitably drawn into a place where we join the increasing chorus in the world that condemns that nation for her failures because we do not understand that they must of necessity fail. There is a going down before there is a coming up. There is a death before a resurrection. There is a suffering and humiliation before the glory.
God yearns to hear men repent of any confidence that they have in their own flesh. Human pride clutches for anything if men will only esteem them, appreciate them and acknowledge them on the basis of themselves, what they are and what they can do. It dies hard. There is something in us that wants to be accepted for us. There is nothing good in the flesh at all. Jesus would not even allow Himself to be complimented when a man called Him 'good' master. He said, 'Why do you call Me good?' Jesus knew that this man was flattering Him as a man and would not allow him that kind of ideological or philosophical ground, because if that man could call Jesus good, what do you think that he thinks about himself, who obeyed all the laws and the commandments from his childhood up? 'There is no one good but God,' and Israel will never bless all the families of the earth until they believe that. When Israel recognizes that, God turns to the 'son of man', and says, "Speak to these bones." That is why this whole chapter begins not with Israel, but the 'son of man'. Israel is helpless. The 'son of man' is the whole issue.
The 'Son of Man'
Ezekiel chapter 37 is not just about Israel. It is about this someone called the 'son of man', a prophetic entity of a mystical kind who in the end becomes the voice of God's speaking and whose word raises Israel out of her death. God does not Himself in some mystical way speak to that nation but employs a 'son of man', who is first brought down into the valley of dry bones, and moved around and in them, right into the grit of that death! Why does God use the figure of the valley of "very dry" bones, and there were "many around about?" Why that metaphor and why the use of that image? I believe that it is because there is no death that is more dead. It is one thing to be a Lazarus in the grave for four days, but this is a condition even beyond that death. This is when you have decomposed, your flesh is gone and your bones are so desiccated, so utterly dried up, that they are ready to crumble to powder.
Who is this prophetic 'son of man' who has the authority, the creative power, the union and identification with God Himself that he can speak for Him and as Him, so as to raise an entire nation by the word, "Come forth"? I am suggesting that he is a corporate 'son of man', that is to say, a church that has come to its full prophetic constituency and stature. It is a church that speaks with one voice in perfect and total agreement, just as the church of old where they were of one heart, one mind and one soul. It does not mean that we are robots punched off the assembly line, but that we are distinct individuals, through the dealings of God in our lives. In the process and the formation of our own growth and maturity, we come into agreement with God, and so does everyone else with us, that we might speak the word of God as one voice that raises the dead. Only a church that recognizes the profound centrality of resurrection for itself will equally, by that recognition, understand the necessity for Israel's death and resurrection.
Then God asks him a teasing question, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' Have you ever felt like a 'son of man'? For all your spirituality, are you ever aware of your humanity at the same time? Have we been made to feel the terrible contradiction of the treasure in our own earthen vessels? The great prophetic man of faith could not say 'yes'. He had to say, 'O Lord God, Thou knowest.' When the crucial moment comes and the nation confesses that it is without hope, then God turns to the 'son of man' and says, "Therefore, prophesy to these bones that they might live."
The Mystery of Israel and the Church
Why would the God of Israel not Himself speak directly to the bones? He does not need anything from anyone. God has, however, chosen to employ the 'son of man' or the church, because the Jews will be in their graves in the nations. This is before Israel returns to the Land as the redeemed of the Lord. God could have done it sovereignly by Himself, but I believe God is as much concerned for the transfiguration of the church as He is for the restoration of the nation. It is a mystery.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Romans 11:33).
This is what Paul saw in Romans chapters 9 through 11. This is why he broke through every barrier of language when the mystery broke upon him. He could not contain himself. It was more than just Israel's restoration. It was the transformation of the church at the very same time, by the process of the crisis that came to the church, the 'son of man' company, called to speak to the dead bones in a faith that could believe that those bones could live.
God's concern for the church is as great as His concern for Israel, and this is the thing that compels the church to a place of authenticity, as nothing else ever given, ever required, could have. It is the ultimate requirement and it is in meeting it that we become apostolically and prophetically ultimate as the church. Unless we can meet this requirement, and it calls us to be larger than life, then we are not the church. It is the final challenge and it can only be met on the basis of the degree to which we can say, "For me, to live is Christ."
Our grasping of this word and the giving of ourselves to the fulfillment of it is the key to the church coming into the fullness of God's intention in the last days. There will be no other challenge of this proportion in the calculated stratagem of God for our rising to a fullness of an apostolic and prophetic kind than the challenge that comes to us by a prostrate, inert and dead nation that cannot help itself, and to whom something must come from outside of itself or it remains in that grave. We are that someone whose word will either permit it to rise from the dead or remain in that condition. This is an ultimate requirement of the church that will identify who, in fact, the true church is. Only a people who are so in union with God, and share the purposes of God, and desire the glory of God, will give themselves to this final cross requirement, a requirement that is beyond their own faith and ability.
It is a unity that cannot be obtained by a people in agreement of an ecumenical kind where we all give bear hugs and backslaps to one another. I mean the kind of agreement that the Lord forges out of suffering, the unity that takes suffering, pain and disillusionment to temper and establish, that we might be 'one as He is one.' It is a death to our individuality, our individualism, our many opinions, our self-will and our self-centeredness. This is a unity that can only be obtained at the Cross. How does God get us from the condition we presently are in to that where He can command us to prophesy? We are not attenuated to being commanded. We do not like it. We chafe. A crisis, however, has come that requires us to speak as one voice in order to give that speaking the power to raise a dead nation. Are we willing? It is not a compulsory requirement. To see Israel apostolically and prophetically in its death, to go down into the midst of it is to make the radical requirement. That is the genius and the mystery of God.
We have got a long way to go and this is the incentive for making that journey. If we do not make it, then we will languish in an inferior faith, and find ourselves cut off from the ultimate purposes of God in the last days. We might likely even find ourselves apostate. The church will be a prophetic entity that can speak for God, with the authority of God, that the speaking is not just inspirational instruction, but an 'event' that causes a nation to rise from death. A faith that would rather prefer to go to Israel and plant some trees or attend a Feast of Tabernacles conference is not a faith that God employs. This is ultimate requirement, and God is putting all of His eggs in one basket, namely, the church.
With what authority do we presently speak, who have given our mouths to trifles, to gossip, to chitchat, to nonsense and all the things that debase the currency of words? We have so little understanding, so little respect for the spoken word as 'event'. It will take much more silence, that when the speaking comes, then it will be consequential. That means discipline because we are a generation that cannot stand silence. We need to have the earphones on, even while we are on the bus, or walking in the street or doing our homework. We do not respect silence and we do not respect true speaking.
So long as the nation Israel remains in its grave, we will continue to have incest, abortion, child molestation, perversion and every sick and defiling, Sodom and Gommorah sin. We will be inundated with every grotesque form of sin until the nation Israel comes to be a priestly nation and a light to the world, and bless all the families of the earth, because they know God as the God who raises the dead. The true knowledge of God is the knowledge of a God who raises the dead. It is not the knowledge about God, but the experience of the resurrection ourselves. Except we have experienced that resurrection from our death, then how shall we believe it for them? Except our word be a resurrection word in resurrection power, how shall they be raised from that death?
Since Israel has a millennial destiny that is central to all nations, there is no alternative but for God to bring her out from the place of man in his self-sufficiency and dependency and into a union with Him by which He alone is glorified. The unhappy thing is that no-one can come into that short of death. It is really a remarkable revelation of our own condition that we have not understood that necessity for Israel, and the reason is that we have not understood it for ourselves! The church itself is operating too much from its own unaided humanity and making a brave show of it in terms of meetings, enjoyment, success and programs. It is only when the issue of glory is raised that our presumptions and failures are apparent. I have a complete persuasion that all of our error and failure to understand how God will bring Israel down and our reluctance to consider the necessary suffering and devastation, stems from the fact that our central consideration is not the glory of God but the success of a nation, a fellowship or a ministry.
We need to understand that Israel's predicament shall get worse and worse, both from within and without. There has never been a nation so bewildered, so bedeviled with such vexing problems in culture, nation, and ethnic differences. They are ringed around by hostile enemies who are determined for their destruction, and have a hostile Palestinian presence within, that even if they resolve the present Palestinian crisis (which I cannot imagine that they can find a way to do it), the intractable hatred, the bloodlust and the revenge, that is characteristic of the Arab and Muslim mentality, cannot be placated.
This is neither accidental nor haphazard, but the calculated wisdom of God to bring a proud, stubborn, self-willed and self-assured people down and out, that He might raise them up in the power of God, supernaturally, by a word spoken through Gentiles, whom Jews disdain as being inferior. We will be ironically the key to their national restoration. That is why God does not speak the word, He has us to speak it, together, in agreement, one heart, one mind, one will, when it is commanded and in the faith that works by love.
This love, the faith that works by this love, is the love of God, the unconditional love of God that cannot be offended against, irrespective of what Jews do or what they have become. In a word, the 'son of man' who speaks for God has got to be in such union with God, that his love is God's love, his faith is God's faith, and for him to live is Christ. How many of us can say that that is our present and consistent condition? Can we say with Paul, with complete integrity and certitude, 'For me, to live is Christ.' Is that true of us at work on Monday, in the home, in relationship, as husband, as father, as servant? I do not live by my own wisdom. I avoid it. I do not trust it. I do not move by my own energy. I allow God to empty me. I am weak, helpless, and a frail thing. I am dust. Except that He lives, I do not live either. I am dead and hid with Christ in God until His life is revealed, then is my life revealed unto glory, for it is my life.
The Issue of the Glory of God
Let me put it another way: If Israel had not been in this crisis unto death; if they had been in any less demanding place where the church could have helped them as it is doing now, for example, through finances, through making trips to Israel and through helping them effect the peace negotiation; if they would have had the security and peace and that would have been the end of history, then, in what condition would we have been eternally fixed, both as the church and as Israel? It would have been in a condition less than what glorifies God. It certainly would not have been a condition that fitted us for our eternal calling. If we miss this, we miss it all. For we cannot discuss the issue of Israel except in the context of eternity. It is not just their immediate need, their security and helping them through, but there is an issue of eternity at stake, and this is the last occasion in time and history by which that is to be effected. It is ultimate and final, both for Israel and for the church.
It raises a question for the church, "How can I communicate this to the church, that the church would be willing to embrace this death and to know this life?" It is exactly the same question here toward Israel. What does it take? A well-meaning prophet could never have succeeded. He has got to be brought to a certain place himself, and it is the crisis of Israel that brings him to that place. Ezekiel chapter 37 begins:
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. And He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry (Ezekiel 37:1-2).
Does this indicate that the prophet voluntarily would like to be in the midst of the valley of dry bones? Think on that. Would you like to be in it? When the Allies arrived in Germany at the end of World War II, they came upon scenes of mounds and mounds of stinking corpses and bones in the most ugly configurations that men puked, their stomachs went out on them to see the horror of those mass graves and unburied corpses and bodies in their final convulsions of death. It is not something that is pleasant, but it is something that is true. If the prophet or anyone will not come to the place of truth, if he will not see things as they in fact are, as God Himself sees them, then he cannot speak for Him.
The 'son of man' is as much a concern in the purposes of God as the valley of dry bones themselves. It describes God's preoccupation and jealousy not only for Israel but something symbolized in the phrase, 'son of man', who has a prophetic calling and yet evidently, unless the Spirit of the Lord brought him out and the hand of the Lord was upon him, he would not have chosen to come down into that valley. Unless we will allow the hand of the Lord upon us as a 'son of man' company as a prophetic end-time people, to bring us out of our charismatic shallowness and the other kinds of thrills and trivia to which we have given ourselves, and be brought down into the place of desolation and death, then we have no ultimate place in God's purposes.
The Depravity of Our Humanity
It is the issue of truth, and we need to begin to see how desperately evil man is in his humanity. We need to see that only the Lord's death is the answer to it. Part of what is deep-seated in our humanity are our delusions, our wishful thinking, the way we like to color something in our views or see the good side of it. We want to avoid the hard, painful seeing of something as it in fact is.
There is an illustration I often give. Years ago, I went with my brother Lenny to a "Joe's Bar and Grill" to watch a Joe Louis fight. Joe Louis was the defeated former champion and Rocky Marciano, a rising blockbuster, was just coming on the scene and he was wiping out his opponents as if they were made out of straw. So they get Joe Lewis out of retirement to meet this young threat and of course who do you think that my brother and I were rooting for? Joe Lewis. The sentimental favorite, the man we loved, was making a comeback. I will never forget it. We watched and it was pathetic. You wanted to look away. He was getting bashed from one side of the ring to the other. He was just being chewed up and spit out. An old man flailing wearily with his hands against this massive brute. There came one moment, however, when he began to try to put together some offense. I think I could have pushed him over myself. It was pathetic to watch. It was so hopeless. My brother leaped to his feet and cried out, "He's got him! He's got him!", and I am looking at Lenny as if he has gone mad.
Do you know what that says? He wanted so much to see Joe make it that it actually influenced the way in which he perceived reality. It is self-induced deception born out of the carnal heart that refuses to see something as it in fact is, and so colors it and transforms it, that it believes its own perception and its own lie. In that condition we will never prophesy anything. A prophet is a seer before he is a spokesman. If his word is not in keeping with the truth of what is to be seen, then it is not a true word and it will not raise the dead. I have to say that this text seems to suggest that this prophet is not willing, that there is a degree of reluctance, and there would be for us too, to see things as they in fact are. How many of us are willing to see the condition of our marriages as they painfully in fact are, or our children, or our fellowships, or ourselves? That is prophetic seeing and the truth is often painful before it can become glorious.
How do we perceive Israel? Is she just struggling through some temporary problems? Yes, there have been some unhappy things; and yes, they have had to use some force and even brutality; and yes, it was a very sad episode about that Jewish doctor going into the Mosque in Hebron killing many in cold blood with a machine gun; and yes, "Those things will happen." Is it rather a symptom and statement not of a man, but of a condition of a nation? When a man who is both orthodox and highly educated can in cold blood calculate the death of others as being the means by which Israel will preserve its security, then we have something much more than an aberrant individual. Are we seeing humanly, with a degree of wishful thinking that wants to dismiss painful considerations, or are we seeing something deeper and truer, as God would have us to see?
We have to ask whether it was an act of a deranged man, who really is not himself, or have the extremities and the pressures revealed what the man in fact is, and always has been, and it took this extremity to reveal it. It is asking the same question about Nazi Germany, the land of philosophy, ethics, morality, music and culture. Is that the true Germany or is the true Germany what was unmasked by the pressures that revealed the pagan heart of that nation in the Nazi time? In fact, does God allow, if not bring into being, the circumstances that will reveal our condition nakedly? God will not bring His redemptive answer to the changing of that condition until we acknowledge it, and do not make excuses for it, and say, "That is me."
I was a 16-year-old kid getting papers to be a merchant seaman and found myself in Sicily and Italy in 1945. The war was just over, the harbors were full of sunken ships and we sailors with our American cigarettes were kings. We could buy the city. For one pack of cigarettes you could have a woman all night. There were pimps that met us at the wharf to bring us to their homes so that we could line up and take on their sisters. Do you know what I realized as a tender, young, poetic, philosophical, Jewish boy from Brooklyn, when I saw dogs as meat hanging in the butcher shop windows, and respectable, middle-class women as prostitutes taking on an entire ship's crew? My supposed morality is only skin-deep. My assumed morality is a luxury that I have been able to enjoy because I have not been required to live under the desperate conditions that made these women do what they were doing.
We need to see as God sees, and because we have not seen it in His Word, then we have to see it in our experience. The church needs rightly to interpret the meaning of these events and see them with a steady eye. Does that mean that we do not love Israel because they are not as nice as we had hoped, or that we do not love Germany, or that we do not love man that is made in God's image? Yes, of course, we love them, but we are not going to allow that to deceive us as to their condition and their need. We loved Joe Lewis, but the fact of the matter was he was being painfully done in. He should not even have been in that ring, but I am not going to be deceived to think that he was going to win.
Before we can speak prophetically, we need to see prophetically, and that is dying to every illusion and desire we have to see things in a better light because it feels better to see it that way. God is not saying, "Just take a glimpse at this." He brought him down into the midst of these dry bones and walked him all around and pushed his face right into it. What do you think of a God like that? In fact, we might just as well be talking about community. God puts your face right into it. If you want to live with delusion, then just be a Sunday Christian. Wear your pious face and let others wear theirs, and greet each other in the foyer of the church, and have a little backslap, and "How are you doing, brother?". If you want to see the true condition of the church, then live in community for the rest of the week and see people when their religious masks are off, as they in fact are. Do you know what is yet more shocking? It is what you in fact are!
Disillusionment is not a bad thing. What is illusion but another name for a lie. It is a grace of God that enables us to give up our illusions and disillusions, and see things as they in fact are. It is on that ground that God meets us. That is when His mercy is available. That is when we experience the grace of God on the ground of truth and no other. He is not going to play a game with us and allow us to feed our suppositions or romantic imaginings or any such thing, and think that He is going to meet us on that ground. He is full of grace, but also full of truth. Where is a prophetic people like that? I do not think it is compulsory. It is as many as will allow the Spirit of God to bring them out from their comfortable views and their wishful thinking, and down into the situation as it in fact is grim and full of death and from that place, to speak as God in the place of God. That is why the priests were barefooted. They had to touch the ground. They had no illusions about the truth of Israel's condition, and only in that intercessory condition could they go in and make sacrifice for the nation. Before you are a prophet you are a priest or you are not a prophet. Only priestly identification with the people, in the condition that they are, can bring the prophetic benediction and blessing. We have got to recognize that God is as concerned for the 'son of man' as He is for Israel. It is only in the interaction between the two that both come forth into the place of resurrection and glory.
It is death to be brought out and to be set down in the midst of the valley full of bones, and to pass by them round about. There is a death that precedes the glory and it is a very real one. We have got to taste it as this man did coming down by the Holy Spirit. "Son of man, can these bones live?" He could not even bring himself to say "yes" but, "Thou knowest". It is so despairing and so bereft of any hope, that he could not even bring myself to say, "Yes, they can live." This encourages me for the church today. When I look at the condition of the churchI despair. We are so removed. There is not even a beginning of a flicker of things. God will reduce us to that, that if there is any hope, it is Himself.
For Me, to Speak is Christ
There is a very interesting conclusion here, that we should not miss. After he prophesies, and bone comes to bone and flesh upon the bones, and when they are brought up out of their graves and into the land of Israel, verses 13-14 read,
'Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,' declares the LORD.
How can the Lord say that, when it is clear from the text that the 'son of man' is the one who prophesied? How can the Lord say, "I have spoken it."? How can both things be true at the same time? God is not a man that He should lie. It is because the two are one. God is not exaggerating. It is the very genius of the faith of a coming together in that final moment where the son of man ends and God begins. God's word is his word; God's thought is his thought; God's will is his will and God's impulse is his impulse. The 'son of man' has no independent life of his own. He is a son reflecting the father, and that is the glory. For God to have performed it Himself would not have been a glory. The glory is always revealed when it is expressed through another vessel, "We have this glory in earthen vessels." That is the final demonstration to Israel of the genius and glory of God coming through a Gentile church for which they have been in long-standing derision and contempt. It is the last agent that Israel would have selected to be their deliverer. They would have loved for God to have been exclusively their Deliverer and then they could have boasted that they were the favorite son, but no, the agent is the Gentile church, the same church that has historically called them 'Christ killer!'. God will use, despite every negative prejudice, the church to become their redemptive agent.
What would you rather be, a Christian who receives help from the Lord that you can do so- and-so for the Lord, or a 'son of man', who has come to such a place of union with the Lord, that you cannot tell where the 'son of man' ends and where God begins? Your speaking is His speaking; your thought is His thought; your will is His will. You have no independent existence. What would you rather have, an independent Christian existence with your speaking, your thoughts and your desires, which are nice and good, or the abolition of yourself, where you are dissolved into the Lord Himself, and He is your life and He is your speaking? That He can say about your speaking that it is His, "I have spoken and performed this." I would hazard a guess that the majority of Christians would prefer not to cross over. Yes, they would like the help that God would give to them, and what they could do for God, but they do not want to cross over to that side where they no longer are.
How many women would be willing to cross over to that side where they no longer are, where their husband's speaking is their speaking and their husband's ministry is their ministry? Their own identity is so transmuted and into his that they have become one flesh, and that there is no desire for the woman in her own independence to have her own ministry or her own speaking. She is as much gratified when her husband speaks as if she spoke herself, and is willing so much to see that, that she will die to any possibility by which she could have been the speaker. I am getting now down to where we live. I do not want to be abstract. If the husband himself is the dry bones, then it may take the sacrificial act of the woman to bring him to life. I am not trying to evade that.
An ultimate condition of being in God is implied here beyond anything we have ever contemplated as charismatic, Pentecostal or evangelical. This is more than being a sincere Christian. This is coming to a place where you no longer have an independent identity in yourself, and that your life is in God. You are dead and hid with Christ in God. Until we come to that, Israel remains in her grave. God will not allow Israel's restoration to be on any basis other than this. I am glad that He is a stubborn holdout. We have got to come into the place where we are so fused with God, so one with Him, so having come to the death of our own identity, purpose and being, however well intended, that our speaking is His speaking. On that basis it is the resurrection word that raises the dead!
Unless our death and resurrection as the church precedes theirs, then Israel remains dead, to the detriment of the nations and the holding back of the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the earth. The issue of the Lord's coming and the whole eschatological climax is so altogether interwoven with Israel's restoration, that to omit Israel is to lose any interest in the Lord's coming, except as personal escape.
The Conclusion of the Age
That is the mystery of the church; it is the mystery of the Godhead; it is the mystery of Israel; it is the mystery of marriage. It is ultimate and final. It is the end of history. It is the whole purpose for which history has been established. It is the consummation of everything. The purposes of history, nations, and time are finished and the Lord comes. He has got an Israel that is one with Him, a church that is one with Him. His glory is revealed. He can take credit for everything. It is, "from Him, through Him, and to Him, to whom be glory forever." Now He can trust us to be co-heirs and co-laborers with Him in His kingdom. Now with Abraham we can be the "heirs of the world," where there is nothing left that would in any way threaten or jeopardize the interests of God in terms of our misappropriation of His glory.
The last day's dealings of God with Israel are not some novelty. It is not God putting on another face. It is not finding a new mode of conduct. This is God in His essential being. This is God in what was always intrinsic to Himself. This is the way that He has always performed and the way His wisdom has always been depicted. It has always been set forth that there is a suffering that precedes a glory. The Lord demonstrated that in His own earthly tenure. Why should we be surprised that the nation who is called to be the 'first born son,' (Exodus 4) should have an experience less or other than the Lord Himself? Our problem is that we are not attuned to God. We are not in keeping with the basic thought of God and the disposition of God of which the Cross is the great symbol. It has become a sentimental and ceremonial thing; we are seekers after experiences; we want alleviation from pain; we do not want to embrace it. The suffering I am talking about is the suffering that is intrinsic to the faith by anyone who has a jealousy for God's glory and desires the fulfillment of His ultimate and last day's purposes. The very embrace of those purposes and that glory makes one candidate for suffering.
My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever (verses 27-28).
It almost reads like the last chapter of the Bible. It is the consummation of everything. The kingdom is established under the greater David (Jesus). His rule is forever. God has a new nation which will never again break covenant with Him, with a new spirit and another heart, (Jeremiah 31). We have to see the whole death and resurrection of Israel in the context of the establishment of God's theocratic rule forever.
The last word is 'forever', which implies final, irrevocable and eternal. It is finished, finished on the basis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. When Jesus said, "It is finished", He was envisioning this. This was the "joy that was set before Him", and that He was setting in motion, by His own death, the release of the power of the resurrection glory by which Israel at the end would be raised from the dead, that He might be King over them and rule forevermore. Everything is predicated on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That is why Paul had to ask the Corinthian church why they were saying that there was no resurrection. For if Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead, we of all men are most to be pitied.
I am very fond of saying that the one thing that will distinguish the apostolic from the apostate church of the last days is the subject of resurrection. That is not to say that the apostate church will deny the truth of it as doctrine. They will continue ceremoniously and religiously to acknowledge it, but they have no intention of living in it. Whereas the thing that will distinguish the remnant church is that they can say with Paul, "For to me, to live is Christ." For me to live is Christ, for me to speak is Christ, for me to teach is Christ. It is a people who live eminently in the power of the resurrection life. Why would the apostate church have any reluctance to also live and move and have its being in the resurrection life, if it is available? Why is it only the remnant church? Why is one content merely for the form of it, and the other insistent on the power? It is because death precedes resurrection power every time. God will test those who avow that they intend living in the power of that life.
If we want religious success, then that is fine, and it can be done on the basis of our own expertise, prowess and religious ability. If we want our fellowship, our marriage or our life to be the issue of God's glory and not the issue of our success, then they must be predicated totally on resurrection ground. The question is, "How far do we want to go?" For most of us success is all that we want, be it enjoyment, gratification or satisfaction, religiously or in any other way. The root problem of the church is that we have a false center, namely, ourselves, when the true center should be the glory of God. We never will have gratification and satisfaction until we make that radical adjustment and put God, His interests and the fulfillment of His eternal purposes by which He obtains His glory as the central, primary and first and foremost purpose of our being.
Our very failure as the church to understand the necessary death of Israel shows that we have not truly understood God. Our hope to see the fulfillment of Israel in fifty years as the prophetic, Messianic state is really an expression of our own impatience, immaturity and lack of understanding of the centrality of the Cross and of suffering in the effecting of things that are enduring and eternal. There is a fulfillment of the Scriptures, but by a process that is much more painful, much more demanding and much more requiring the supernatural demonstration of God.
How much of the church's disappointment with Israel is predicated upon a false premise and hope of an idealized or romantic view of Israel, in which we had been fascinated by the energy of this people and their ability to raise themselves up in a generation. This is really a statement of a projection of our own vain perception of ourselves contrary to the whole tenor of the gospel that rests on the issue of death and resurrection, necessary for Abraham, necessary for Jesus, but somehow not as necessary for Israel nor for ourselves. We wanted a more facile and easier success both for ourselves and for Israel, but God is not accommodating our shallowness, for He must perform what He must perform that He might be glorified thereby.
If this does not come to us where we are at, then I despair for my entire nation. If every cell and every member of the Body constitute the corporateness and the fullness of Christ, then any segment of the Body cannot be exempted, whether it be in Harare, Zimbabwe or some place in the Ukraine. We are in this together, and it is this very recognition of our call to be the agent of Israel's deliverance that is the heart of God's unifying theme, principle and revelation. Any other basis for unity is political, false, ecumenical and a hoax. The only reason why men are working to obtain it, through denominational and religious structures rather than the organism which is the Body, is because they have not this revelation and do not want to have it because it centers in a people in whom they have no interest, and do not especially desire to see resurrected unto glory.
I was asked the question: "What is the difference between our death and resurrection as the church as opposed to that of Israel?" I first said, "No difference". Then it caught me. Our death is entirely voluntary. We do not have to enter these waters. We can prefer to remain only as subscribers to the truth of it, but we do not have to go down into the death of it; but Israel will have no choice. Israel's death is involuntary. That is not to say that it is arbitrary. Do you know how skillful we have to be with words? Involuntary does not mean arbitrary. God requires it, but it is also the consequence of their own sin.
The issue of Israel is the issue of the church. Israel in its final, last day's death can only be saved by the resurrection power. It makes, therefore, a requirement of the church as nothing else has ever made a requirement, and in meeting it, the church becomes the church in its full, apostolic and prophetic character, and in that, is fitted for coming into its own millennial destiny of ruling and reigning with Christ as the overcoming church. Israel, then, is the final testing and preparatory provision for our own eternal destiny.
Kamis, 13 November 2008
Born From Above
Shared at Ben Israel, Dec. 2004 by Art Katz
I am reading yesterday’s entry by Oswald Chambers about the birth of Christ: “His birth in history. ‘Therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’ [That is the angel’s announcement to Mary.] Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it. He did not evolve out of history; He came into history from the outside. Jesus Christ is not the best human being; He is a Being who cannot be accounted for by the human race at all. He is not man becoming God, but God Incarnate, God coming into human flesh, coming into it from outside. His life is the Highest and Holiest entering in at the lowliest door. Our Lord’s birth was an advent.”
Is it not worth reading just to get that one statement? I am going to read it again: “His life is the Highest and Holiest entering in at the lowliest door.” That is to say, the stable, and it is a moot question to ask if He will come and have an advent in any person, except in that same way. He will not enter through any other door but the lowliest door, coming in as the Highest. So if we try to open a door to Him from the level of our own superiority or self-esteem, as if we deserve a visitation, He simply will not come. He will only come into a stable, the lowliest place. His advent is a paradigm and a pattern. It is a statement, not just once but always. For every advent of Christ, every birthing, the Highest has got to come into the lowliest, and not just at the commencement of our spiritual life, but at every event and occasion of our spiritual life. If He is to be a Participant and bring the Highest, we have got to open to Him the lowliest.
I love the way Chambers writes; leave it to him to strike that great note: “His life is the Highest and the Holiest entering in at the Lowliest door.” He will never enter into a proud place. His birth was remarkable: no room for Him at the inn, so they had to employ the expediency of a stable. Then He was laid in a manger. I do not know how many years I went on hearing that as a kid, and then even as a believer, not knowing what a manger was. A manger is a feeding trough for animals. The place where the animals slobbered over their food is where He was laid. It is exquisite if you can see it from the point of view of God’s design and the expression, not only of His wisdom, but necessarily of His nature. This is not expediency for the lack of something better; this was God’s divine intention from eternity, that His advent would come in such a way, in such lowliness, or it could not come at all. We need to continually be reminded that if we are not experiencing the Highest, then we are not providing the lowliest.
Chambers goes on to ask, “Have I allowed my personal human life to become a ‘Bethlehem’ for the Son of God? I cannot enter into the realm of the Kingdom of God unless I am born from above by a birth totally unlike natural birth. ‘Ye must be born again.’ This is not a command; it is a foundation fact. The characteristic of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that Christ is formed in me. Immediately when Christ is formed in me, His nature begins to work through me. God manifest in the flesh: that is what is made profoundly possible for you and me by the Redemption.”
What do we call that kind of Christianity that has been emphasized through Billy Graham? It is decisional Christianity, where man calls the shots. The person comes forth, makes a confession, recites a prayer, and he commences his Christian life. It is a good question whether an actual birth has taken place if it is initiated by man, however well-meaning his intention, however moved he is by the message, however much he now desires to be a Christian or to forsake sin. Can man initiate that birth that has got to be wholly given of God? It is clear that there are untold numbers, maybe millions of people, who have entered Christianity decisionally; it was their decision, but it was not His birthing. It is good to be reminded that this birthing is from above, and we cannot commence this life and obtain this nature, except that it is actually birthed in us. We need to insist upon this divine prerogative, and look for that, and believe for that, and wait for that, and trust in that, and not religiously process people into a kind of evangelical Christianity by virtue of their decision.
I am taking note of Chambers’ conclusion here, that if that birthing has taken place and is the birthing of the nature of God, the divine nature into an earthly vessel, the incarnation again, then there should be evidence. Such a phenomenon cannot take place without there being some expression, some outworking of that new nature, that divine thing. If one of these decisional Christians has gone on now for 10, 15, 20 or more years and is not showing evidence of the divine nature, not withstanding the ongoing struggle between flesh and spirit, we need to ask if indeed the new nature has been imparted. If there is no evidence of a new nature, then it is not too extreme to raise the question of whether there has been a new birth. We should even encourage the one who is not evidencing that nature, and is acting contrary to it, to put that question to the Lord: Have I really ever been born from above? If not, Lord, I implore You that that birth might come.
Lord, that birthing was so quiet, no bells, no music, no extravaganza, just something so quiet, but You entered; something was affected immediately. Thank You, my God. My speech changed. It was the beginning of many changes that continue still. Thank You for that moment of birth that came, in the stable that my heart was at that time, the condition I was in at that time. We bless You for the mercy, the election, the sovereignty by which You choose and perform this remarkable advent again and again in human lives. Let it come to everyone who, in any way, is leading a bogus Christian life, failing at it in frustration, for the want of the birth of this Holy Spirit life. We are praying for authentic birthings, Lord, where it has not yet taken place, where it has been covered over and misconceived and lost in the kind of Christendom that now prevails. Let it come as surprisingly as it came in Bethlehem. Thank You, Lord.