"It was round about eighteen thousand measures: and the name of the city from
that day shall be, The LORD is there."
This morning, finding our way can be difficult without guideposts, landmarks, and signs. Trying to navigate through strange territory while driving on poorly marked roads can be quite trying. Yet, we need more direction with appropriate markings in our lives during more times than on the highway. Certain things happen in our daily lives that should perk us up. During our daily reading of God's word, we should perk up at different guideposts and landmarks (even if the overall passage is difficult to understand). During our daily walk, we should perk up when an opportunity to speak about spiritual things arises. During our meditations and fellowship with God, we should be attuned to the providential markings that are accompanied by the sweet assurance of His Spirit. Yet, what happens if we feel completely lost in any of these or other areas? What do you do if you get lost on the highway? The best thing to do when lost on the highway is to go back to what you know (what was the last known point). The last road that was recognizable or the last landmark that was identified need to be the places where re-navigation originates. Likewise, our spiritual endeavours should find the last known point when the feeling of misdirection arises.
There are certain passages, books, and verses of the Bible that are difficult to understand. While those "fuzzy areas" may vary from person to person, some of them appear to be quite common to all. I personally have never met anyone that attempted to say that he had a good handle on the majority of the book of Ezekiel. Some have had more insight into it than I have (as shown by their preaching and conversation)
The book starts in woeful circumstances. Ezekiel is with the captives in Babylon due to Judah's disobedience to God for 490 years. Since they did not honour the sabbath year (every seventh year) for that prolonged stretch, God collected His due recompense of 70 years as the land laid at rest while the nation was held in captivity. (II Chronicles 36:17-21) So, not only are they held in captivity, but the captives are told that they will not endure a "short stay." Most of the people led captive probably would not live to see the end of their captivity. How would we react if, near the end of our lives, we were told of an unpleasant circumstance that would last more years than we had left on this earth? How woeful would be that circumstance?
While Scriptural record does not record for us Ezekiel's age at the time of Jerusalem's fall at the hands of the Chaldeans (Babylon), there was understanding of the prolonged stay. How easy at such a time to become despondent and cast down! The Psalmist said that while in Babylon, the captives were sorrowful when they remembered Zion. They hanged their harps on the willows down by the river, and asked how they could sing the Lord's song in a strange land when desired to by their captors. (Psalm 137) Yet, even with the bad news about their captivity and its prolonged duration, there was still cause for rejoicing in the sense that it will not last forever. While many of us have no personal knowledge of national captivity - I myself have lived all my life with great freedom and liberty - we certainly can all attest to the bondage we feel daily by the body of death we have. (Romans 7:24) So, at least on some level, we can feel some kinship to Ezekiel and the other captives.
However, let us fast forward all the way through the book to the last verse of his record. The last verse serves as one of the clear guideposts for this book that should lend encouragement to us today. After all of this endurance, seeing all of these visions, and looking at all of the losses from a national perspective, God gives Ezekiel a detailed account of a house that he was to show to the house. (Ezekiel 43:10) He was to show the vision of this glorious house established by God to national Israel (house). The detailed description that carries from chapter to chapter may seem laborious at times to read (I certainly do not have a lot of light on any of the significance of some of the detail), the closing verse of the book punctuates the importance of this long description. While tempted at times to read minute details like these and say, "What is the point of all that?" Ezekiel gives us the relevance at the very end.
The point of this long detailed discussion of the house and city is that its name shall be known as "The LORD is there." How often could those who saw Jerusalem's waste and the temple's ruin for 70 long years wag their heads and say, "The LORD wasn't there. How the mighty have fallen!" It would even be conceivable for the captives of Judah to foolishly say, "But the Lord's punishment destroyed His own temple and city." How many times in our lives do we feel despondent over the course of things, dryness of service, and waste and ruin of what we feel are good structures in our lives? Perhaps the Lord's house (church) has experienced a particularly long and dusty spell. Perhaps we are failing daily in our struggle against the flesh more than usual. Perhaps our loved ones and acquaintances have not seemed as warm and personable lately. Whatever the problem or situation, we need to recall this guidepost as a strength against discouragement.
What if the services in God's house have been dusty? Dusty is sure better than a ruined city (as Jerusalem was at this time), yet the Lord still promised its eventual raise and return. So, we need to take heart that - with the house still standing - she is still the place: The LORD is there. Just as their captivity would not last forever, so the dry seasons will go away as well. The LORD is still there, even though His felt-presence may not always be acknowledged.
What if our daily walk is suffering more than usual? We still have the new creature within us that bears the image of Christ. (Colossians 1:27) As that image is still there (even in our failings), the Spirit has said that He would dwell with us and in us. (I Corinthians 6:19, Acts 17:27) Since such is the case, our walk (even with these old bodies of death) is the place: The LORD is there. Just as their captivity would not last forever, so the warfare with the flesh will not be perpetual. It will be laid to rest at death when the body finally succumbs. The LORD is still with us even though His smiles may not always be with us due to our disobedience.
What if our loved ones and acquaintances have "cooled" on us? He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us, though all the world may be against us. (Hebrews 13:5-6) Wherever we may be in life, it is still the place: The LORD is there. If we feel captive to isolation, it is first not the case, but will certainly be made manifest whether in this life or the life to come.
While they did not feel the smiles of the Lord during their captivity (rather His chastening), they still had knowledge of His promise of return to their beloved country. While some may not have seen it, the word was given to assure them it would come to pass. We may die during a dusty season in God's house, but we can still die assuredly knowing that it will not last forever. We may die after a miserable campaign against the flesh or with not a manifest friend to be with us in our final hours, but we can still die assuredly knowing that He is on our side forever and ever.
One final thought about the verse is this: the place of the house and city shall bear the "name" - The LORD is there. While Jerusalem and the temple were manifestly in ruin for seventy years, no one was walking about her saying, "The LORD is here." Yet, a time would come when it would be clear to all that the LORD is there. Some may see bad times in God's house and say, "The LORD isn't there." But, that is not a time for discouragement or evil speaking, but rather a time for prayer that His anointing would again be felt and experienced so that even those on the outside looking in would say, "God is in you of a truth." (I Corinthians 14:24-25) People can see us at low, spiritual points and say, "The LORD isn't with you." But, we should stirred to be up and about His business so that others would say, "There goes a Friend of God." (James 2:23)
After writing this segment, I still do not have much more light (if any) on the book of Ezekiel than I previously had, but my hope is that this final verse serves as a lighthouse to us while we sail here. This light shows that while the book starts in captivity, it ends in the promise of deliverance. You may be going through one of the types of captivity that we attempted to discuss above, but may our lives not become cast upon the rocks of despair, fear, and discouragement. Rather, may we look at lighthouses such as this in God's word and boldly proclaim, "Deliverance shall come." If our natural eyes do not see it, it still does not matter. Deliverance is coming, and in one sense (the warfare of the flesh), death is the deliverance that ends the conflict. May our lives look at His promises more and contemplate His mercies more so that our captivities of life are seen in their proper illumination: light affliction that is but for a moment. (II Corinthians 4:17-18)