This passage from EZEKIEL is about the restoration of Israel after many years of exile in Babylon.
Imagine a massive 2000 piece Jigsaw Puzzle, with a description of part of the picture, instead of the finished picture on the top of the box to follow. (Now fading)... (The Pieces are all jumbled up in the box & a job to imagine it finished)
A Prophesy, which is what this passage is from Ezekiel, is a bit like the Instructions for our Jigsaw Puzzle, Ezekiel has been giving Gods Instructions & helping people get their picture right.
The only thing is these, Particular Instructions Ezekiel delivers from God aren't fulfilled until the Jigsaw Puzzle of God's Creation is completed, so we find that we are also part of this Jigsaw Puzzle, and this passage also helps to see how our pieces of Jigsaw fit together.
Let us discover what we have in our reading to work with here.
v16-17 So we can start piecing things together. What a funny description & an odd thing for Ezekiel to be doing with those sticks, It certainly does get my attention & I imagine the people Ezekiel was addressing, found it intriguing.
Let's see why God told Ezekiel to do the stick writing. Heres' the first bit of the jigsaw coming together, a bit of background.
Lets look at
What happened after the reign of Solomon & why the two kingdoms were split in the first place.
We delve into 1 Kings 11 v 26 and the story of Jeroboam who was an official at Solomon's court, he was from the tribe of Ephram.
Solomon was very impressed with Jeroboam & his administration skills so he put Him in charge of the whole labour force of the conscripted workers from the tibes of Ephrim and Manesseh (From the North). This must have made Jeroboam aware of the discontent among the people towards Soloman's policies, (Forced Labour) anyway in a prophetic word from Ahija, (another Prophet) Jeroboam was told by God to rebel against the House of David, but to stay faithful to God, and that the ten tribes would follow him to the North, to Israel, but to wait until Solomon had died.
Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam (so he fled to Egypt).
Rehoboam was the son of Solomon and this is where the split in the two kingdoms happens. in 1 kings11 v 12.
(Jeroboam came back)
After Solomon died- the people asked Jeroboam to go and ask The king to stop forcing harsh labour on them.
The king against advice told the conscripted Israelites He would make things even harder and cruel(er) for them instead.
So with (Jereboam) as a leader all the Israelites (rebelled) went home to their northern homelands leaving only the House of Judah and any Israelites left living in the towns of Judah behind.
Jereboam felt that because the Temple was in Jerusalem in the south & the people believed
God only manifested Himself over the Ark of the covenant, which was in the Temple Solomon built people would start drifting back to the South and Judah to the Temple.
So Jereboam cast two bronze calves, he set one up in Bethel and one in Dan. So that the people could visit them and worship.
So Jereboam led all the people to use idols for worship like the pagans.
He hadn't found God for himself & he couldn't lead others to Him.
Meanwhile Reheboam wasn't doing any better & stirred up God to a Jelous anger also by setting up high places and sacred stones & asherah poles to worship a female god.
Well God was dissapointed with all of them and kept sending prophets during these three or four hundred years to warn both the Northern and Southern Kingdom to stop all the dreadful things they were doing or God would intervene.
So for the next few hundred years from about 930bc to 586bc and about 14 kings between the North and South there is a lot of recorded prophetic activity, telling the people that God is not happy with the way they are carrying on - But they didn't take any notice - & if they didn't like the message they very often killed the Prophets.
So to put it plainly everyone was doing their own thing and not God's thing.
We have to stop here & take a quick look at the causes of this situation in human terms as opposed to the historical evidence.
God hates seeing his people oppressed & is willing to take drastic measures on our behalf, to set us free from bondage of any kind, but God doesn't want to spring us from bondage or oppression into chaos, doing what we want to do very often leads to our own downfall.
Doing what God wants for us, always brings a blessing of release from conditions around us, because our attitude can change or even release from the way we have learned to do things because that is the way they have ben handed on to us and we know no better.
That is a piece of or jigsaw we will put to one side and contemplate while we consider the tale of the divided Kingdom.
Not all of the 40 kings were dreadful. Some really made an effort to put things right, but when you think of this as one big family feud, its easy to see how impossible in human terms it is to reconcile families that have fallen out so far, they don't want to have anything to do with each other - after a few generations Pass one doesn't even know what the row was about, but new ones keep the fires of discord and separation burning, time sometimes serves us up the impression we were right not to make peace and resolve differences.
Israel & Judah were warring with each other, and they were also forming alliances with other nations like Egypt Assyria & Babylon to back up each others grieviences.
Well God was So Sad, that his children had fallen out with each other and deserted him, that he decided to rescue them from themselves & all they had been doing wrong.
God needed everyone to make a fresh start, but they wouldn't by themselves so he allowed th Assyrians to kidnap and Exile one lot of Israelites, then the Babylonians kidnapped another lot a few years later & finally in 586bc Jerusalem was Sacked and Burned, the Temple destroyed & the Ark of the Covenant lost forever.
This was the darkest hour in Israel's history everything was lost. Those who still believed in God, thought that God could only be worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem, where His presence lived with His people.
Everything they took for granted was destroyed.
Everything they relied opon, to give them an identity was now in ruins. Not only that but they were in a strange country with strange customs & values & suddenly Home seemed very sweet.
The interesting thing is that God had set them free from themselves & the course of history they had been on for nearly 400 years.
Isn't it easy to think we would know better!
God, like a loving parent had warned his children Israel that they were making grievious errors & that because God was their parent & responsible for them, would have to use his authority and power to disciplin his wayward children.
God kept all of his promises to his children and never gave up on them. And the people in exile learned to worship God without the Temple and without The Ark of the Covenant, which represented God's presence with his people.
Before in Jerusalem, Priests from the Tribe of Levi were employed by the people to worship and observe the traditions - paid Priests who had a job to do. In exile in Babylon and Assyria the people had to learn to worship God for themselves and they realised they could, Prophets like Daniel, Ezekiel helped people to learn to love and respect their Father God all over again and even before the people were ready to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls and the temple, God is preparing them for their return under Nehemiah. Ch 2 v 19 -20.
God fulfilled this part of the prophecy when he brought the exiles back to Jerusalem some seventy years or so after it was destroyed, so we can see God preparing the way for Restoration.
We can find in this story how slow God is to anger & how quickly he restores after things have been put right.
What we have here in this background are the clues to the way the whole of the jigsaw comes together, we are looking at this story from our perspective of knowing God through meeting with Jesus His Son, and the end of the prophesy is about the return of Jesus and his return in Glory, which the Bible tells us could be any time soon - even very soon.
Hold me down because I get very excited about how Glorious that day will be - and how we should be working for it & striving & longing for it.
What can we take from the story of the Divided Kingdom & Exile & restoration of God's people for ourselves in our jigsaw.
Should we be getting to know other Christians from other denominations so that we become more united as a people of God.
Can we get to know each other better so that we can respect each others traditions and gain in strength and community as God's people, so we can stand together and move forward together as the body of 'The Church', the dedicated bride of Christ preparing for our Bridegroom to return.
We as a Church are gathered into the Vine of Israel as adopted children & we are part of this enormous plan to redeem & restore & renew the whole of Creation and Mankind.
What this passage shows is how to become united in our aims & purpose & how God will bless us when we choose to take up our rightful inheritance.
This passage calls us to the unity of an undivided Church, to be recognised as God's people and to reconcile ourselves to one another in trust and fellowship.
It's much easier to start afresh with God, than to sort out a mess someone else has left us to sort out.
God says in this passage 'I will sweep the past away - here is a new beginning'.
It is up to each of us how we want to use our fresh start, because God has the Grace for each of us to begin anew in any area of our life and worship and commitment to Him - and He gives us the strength by his Spirit to be consistent.
Let's look again at our Jigsaw, do we find we are in the picture, how well do we all fit together to form a picture with Christ at the centre.
Can we afford to feel we have got the picture right, or do we find that God has a better way for us each to fit into His plan.
Do we feel we need to encourage each other to get our picture right, to what God would like to see happening, can we find room to fit new pieces of jigsaw and new people into our picture.
I feel very privileged to have been fitted into the Zion jigsaw, and I know God is reshaping me to fit into your picture, but God is helping you all to let me be fitted in.
Shall we see if God needs us to accommodate more new people to his plan & be prepared to reshape ourselves to a new service and ways of worship, as I know God has an exciting new picture for us to make together if we want to. Lets take all our Talents and Ministries together and get excited about the future, because the best part of God's plan is yet to be unfolded.
God never loses anything, every last piece of his creation is intact.
It is being drawn to completion and we have the most glorious picture before us & Jesus Christ is the hallmark on every piece, the hallmark of Divine Purpose.
I always find it interesting that the most priceless articles have a makers inscription on them - they are proud of their work & you usually have to turn the piece upside down to find the Makers inscription that authenticates its provenance.
Sometimes it isn't until we are taken out of all the things we are familiar with and comfortable doing and we are turned upside down by something, that we can be liberated from old ways and unnecessary traditions & released into new and exciting possibilities & deeper and refreshed & renewed relationship with the living God.
What the Israelites did was nothing to change things, What God did was to change everything forever, and through Jesus, God has changed everything for ever for us.
Only each one of us has to make sure we are changing daily, in renewal and growth towards Jesus, reaching for The Cross and valuing the work of Christ in us & through us as a precious gift of life from God.
Written during preparation to become a Lay Preacher.