Friday, October 25, 2019

Fierce love

Ezekiel 20 is one of the fiercest expressions of the love of God in the whole canon of Holy Scripture.  The majority of the chapter is given over to a narration of Israel's history, from the devastating perspective of the people's constant rebellion.  The Lord visited them in the land of Egypt, but they rebelled and would not listen (vv 1-8a); the Lord brought them out from there and taught them his good and life-giving laws, but they rejected his rules (vv 8b-13a); the Lord preserved them in the wilderness, but they turned after their idols (vv 13b-26); even after the Lord brought them into the land of promise, they filled the land with their idolatrous shrines (vv 27-31).  He has been good to them; they have been wantonly rebellious.

At each step along the way, the threat of destruction has loomed.  "Then I said I would pour out my wrath on them..."  But at each stage the Lord restrained his anger.  Why?  Because there was still something good about Israel?  Not at all!  There is no record of anything good here in Israel.  But God is good, and is determined in his love to have this people for his own.
“What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.’"
Israel wants to be free of God, despite all his blessings.  They want to be just like everyone else.  But God will not allow this.  Oh, he might let them chase after their idols for a time.  But in the end he will bring them into judgement (v 35), and bring them into the bond of the covenant (v 37).  It will happen.  He will be God to this people, and they will be his people.  Oh, their lives would be so much easier if he would just let them go.  But his commitment to them, his love for them, will not be denied.  It is a love that is not based in anything lovely in them - indeed, they have done everything to make themselves unlovely to him.  This is a love which depends wholly on the lover and not all on the beloved.  ("And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil deeds..." v 44).  And therefore it is a love which endures.

It is also a love which burns (v 38, vv 45-49).  It is not weak.  It is not a devotion on the Lord's part which means that Israel can get away with anything, as if his love made him indulgent.  No, it is a fierce and determined love, the very fire of the Lord.

It is deeply comforting and frankly rather frightening.

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