Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Consecrated Flock (Ezekiel 36:38)

In reading the last sections of Ezekiel 36 last week in my Ezekiel seminar, we were struck by how Ezekiel flags Israel's new inhabitation and proliferation in the promised land as the visible marks of God's new salvation. God's redemption goes beyond the people's repatriation and inner healing to include the physical transformation of their environment and the granting of fruitfulness and multiplication to the people (cf. Ezekiel 36:11, earlier in the chapter).

This fruitfulness and multiplication of the redeemed people has strong spiritual significance. Observers of Israel see them living in Eden paradise (Ezekiel 36:35; cf. Isaiah 51:3). Their fruitfulness is a physical display of the mystery and presence of God among them, just as God was at home in the Garden of Eden. The rivers of Eden will flow down from God's mountain, making earth's landscape team with life and blessing. To the Bible's way of thinking, salvation is bound up with material prosperity and a thriving earthly environment.

In Isaiah 40-66 as well, the coming of fruitfulness and multiplication to God's people is the prime physical embodiement of God's promised eschatological comfort and restoration. Thus, Isaiah 51:3 connects God's eschatological "comfort" (cf. Isaiah 40:1) with God's making Zion and her waste places "like Eden" (51:3) and her people "blessed" and "multipled" (51:2).

The closing verse of Ezekiel 36 compares the redeemed people of God to Jerusalem bustling with flocks for sacrifices during pilgrimage time. My international students from Africa in the class immediately connected the verse to how African markets bubble and team with life and human interaction. It is spiritually invigorating to go to such markets and soak up the energy of community and mutuality of persons there.

The flock of Ezekiel 36:38 is not just any flock, but a "consecrated flock" (צאן קדשׁים). The connotations of the language here suggest how the numerousness of God's people is a physical sign of their eschatological sanctification. God's endtime work is the creation of a numerous people, whose very numbers signal their new, holy sanctification.


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