We’re not starting a new sermon series this week; instead, we’re looking forward to a “family meeting” this coming Sunday. Alex and Jaime will host a “vision refresh”—a chance to catch our breaths, remember who we are in Christ, and revisit what our King is calling us to be and to do as Chatham Community Church.
The text for this coming Sunday is Ezekiel 17, with a special focus on verses 22-24. Today we’ll get a running start by looking at what is going on in Ezekiel 17 before we get to our text at the end of the chapter.
The two most formative events in the life of Israel were the Exodus from Egypt and the Exile to Babylon. Exodus was about liberation from slavery and settlement in a promised land, about covenant and Torah (“Law”). Exile was about the covenant broken, necessary judgment, and removal from the promised land to war-refugee “homelessness” in Babylon.
The Exile (around 600 BC) occurred in stages. Babylon was the rapidly expanding regional superpower—and an instrument of God’s judgment upon his rebellious people. Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon’s general-king, forced Israel into submission around 597 BC, turning her into a vassal state and installing a “puppet king” in Israel. The Babylonians removed to Babylon many of Israel’s “elite,” to prevent them from fomenting rebellion. Ezekiel was among those deported to Babylon in this “first wave” of the Exile.
Some years later, after having agreed to a treaty of submission to Babylonian sovereignty, Israel sought alliances with Egypt, as a way of wiggling free from the Babylonian yoke. Babylon responded with a punitive invasion that resulted in the execution of Israel’s final king, the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.
What does this ancient history possibly have to do with Chatham Church in 2020? Be patient just a bit longer!
Ezekiel 17:1-21 is a somewhat complicated allegory or parable of the politics of the ancient Near East. We have eagles (representing different kings and empires), cedar trees (representing smaller kingdoms), topmost branches (representing local kings) clipped from trees by the eagles and carried to far-off lands … the point of it all is that God’s people cannot escape God’s judgments through political machinations. They thought they were dealing with Babylon when in fact it was God who was dealing with them. They thought Egypt could save them when in fact their salvation lay where it always had, in the LORD.
After twenty-one verses of ancient political scheming, we come to “our” verses: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘I myself will…’” (verse 22).
What God is doing, in and among the ebb and flow of human history, of empires and kingdoms, of wars and alliances, of deportation and longed-for homecoming, is what we need to give our attention to.
What God is doing, Ezekiel says, is planting a “tree,” that is a kingdom—but a kingdom like no other because it has a king like no other. This tree that God is planting will become a “noble cedar”—and that’s where Chatham Church gets in on the story! Stay tuned …
What are two or three ways we could pay closer attention to what God is saying and doing, less attention to all the “noise” that distracts, entertains and frightens us?