October 11: Ezekiel 44
What made Israel different from the other nations of the ancient middle east? This was a question which was very important to Ezekiel, because he was one of those who had been taken into exile when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. Everything that had made the nation distinctive had been destroyed or taken away, and there was every chance that the Jews would soon assimilate into the surrounding peoples and disappear.
It was at this time that God spoke to his prophet and gave him a vision for what Israel would one day once again be. To the exiles in Babylon it must all have seemed like a dream that would never come true, but this did not deter Ezekiel. At a time when the temple lay in ruins in Jerusalem, when the sacrifices made there were no longer being offered and when the priests had been scattered, Ezekiel had a vision of what God had planned for its restoration.
The temple would be rebuilt, but not before the people had learned the lessons of the past. Destruction had come to Jerusalem because they had wandered away from God. They had paid little attention to the temple and done almost nothing to keep it pure. Pagan cults and pagan people had been allowed into it and there was little respect shown for the holiness of the Almighty God of Israel. In the new temple, all that would change. No-one would be let in who was not entitled to be there, and those who were appointed to look after it and perform the sacrifices would be held to their duties. The new temple would be a sign to the nations that God was in the midst of Israel, and that it was his presence among them which set them apart from all the other nations in the world.
Today we no longer have a temple built with stones in Jerusalem. Instead, every one of us is a temple, holy to God and set apart from his service. The message of Ezekiel to us is that the glory of the Lord dwells in us, and that we must reflect that glory in everything that we think, say and do. We are different from the world around us and called to stand apart from it because we serve a God who is high and lifted up, and whose glory cannot be shared with any other. It is he who makes us what we are, and his presence that gives us our identity, whatever our outward circumstances may be. His life is our life and his love binds us to him, now and for ever.