Still answering Elijah’s question about the biblical foundations of “mission” as I understand it.
So far we’ve touched on love, Eden, flood and fame, Abraham, Exodus through Ruth, Israel’s choice to replace God with a king, the exiles and the “pre-exilic” prophet Isaiah.
Now, let’s look at one chapter from the “exilic” prophet Ezekiel, who prophesied to God’s people while exiled in Babylon.
I want to look only at Ezekiel 36, the chapter of the bible I’ve referenced more than any other here on my blog. When I studied it for the first time a decade ago it shifted my perspective dramatically – even laying the first brick of my pacifism.
The True Tragedy Of Rebellion
Ezekiel explains to God’s people why they have been exiled to Babylon:
16 Again the word of the LORD came to me: 17 “Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman’s monthly uncleanness in my sight. 18 So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. 19 I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. 20 And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.’ 21 I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.
-Ezekiel 36:16-21 (emphasis mine)
God’s people rebelled against Him in two primary ways, according to Ezekiel: They shed blood without God’s permission and they worshipped other gods (v.18) The true tragedy of their sin was that it “profaned” God’s name.
The word “profane” used throughout this chapter means “to cause to limp” or “to cripple.” God’s name, or reputation, hobbled around in full view of the other nations when God’s people misrepresented His character with their violence and idolatry.
As His representatives, the way God’s people behaved told the world something about who He was. Their life together preached to the nations. The sermon of their violence told the nations that God was not good (loving, compassionate, just). The sermon of their idolatry told the nations God alone could not be trusted (more gods were needed).
Because of the rebellion, the nations didn’t know God as He truly was. He couldn’t stand for that.
Wrath & Grace
22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.
-Ezekiel 36:22,23 (emphasis mine)
God declared that He would rescue His name by showing off in front of the nations (v.23). He promised to continue punishing His people with exile and also to harm those who had imprisoned them (v.7). But he also promised to rescue His people from exile someday, to gather them together (v.24), to protect and provide for them (vv.8-12). This, He said, would show the nations what He was truly like and restore His reputation.
Through the prophet Ezekiel God made a promise to His people: a new kind of relationship.
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness.
-Ezekiel 36:25-29 (emphasis mine)
God promised to one day forgive the sins of His people and to exchange their stoney dead hearts with fleshy living hearts. He promised to put His own Spirit inside their hearts: now that’s intimacy! He promised His Spirit inside them would move them to obey His commandments, exchange their old disposition to rebel for a new disposition to obey. The Law written on stone would be written on their hearts and they would be motivated to follow every decree of God. Lastly, God promised to protect and provide for them.
Mission In Ezekiel
God desired for the nations to know who He truly was. When God’s people rebelled against Him they tarnished His reputation and turned others away from Him. God protected His reputation fiercely, pouring out wrath on those who harmed His children and disciplining His sinful people. But God also displayed His grace by making an amazing promise of a future unprecedented intimacy and power along with the assurance of His protection and provision.