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The Foundation for True Reality

I feel abandoned and forsaken by God.”

I’ve heard this sentence in one form or another countless times from people overcome by their feelings in the midst of life. I find feelings interesting because they can infiltrate our entire being and hold us captive to whatever impression they give in the moment. Although they aren’t bad in and of themselves, our feelings become problematic when they don’t reflect true reality.

As a “feeler” by nature, God’s constantly readjusting my feelings-based perception of reality to the truth of his Word. Recently, he used the book of Ezekiel to do this. Yes, Ezekiel comes to us from a distant land in the ancient world far removed from anything you and I experience. And, sure, this book is full of confusing imagery, strange sign-acts, and language that makes many modern audiences blush. If you’re willing to overcome some of its cumbersome content, you’ll discover that Ezekiel has profound implications for what it means to think and feel rightly as a member of God’s covenant community.

The Book of Ezekiel

Ezekiel 1:1 begins “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month.” Why begin with this date? Thirtieth year of what? Though it’s debated, many scholars believe it refers to Ezekiel’s age. If so, it was the year of the prophet’s thirtieth birthday. The significance of this lies in verse three, “the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal.”

Historically, we know Ezekiel as a prophet. As the son of Buzi, he grew up preparing to be a priest—the greatest calling one received in ancient Israel. His years would have been spent in preparation for the day when he would enter the temple in Jerusalem in holy service to Yahweh. Numbers 4:3 explains that priests were qualified to serve from the age of thirty to fifty; therefore, everything Ezekiel dreamed of doing from childhood on would come to fruition on his thirtieth birthday.

However his birthday had come and he’s not in the temple. Actually, he’s not even in Jerusalem. He’s “among the exiles by the Chebar canal” (1:1), “in the land of the Chaldeans” (1:3). Get this—Ezekiel’s in Babylon! He wasn’t ministering in the presence of Yahweh. He wasn’t enjoying the prestige of being a priest. He wasn’t even living in the comfort of his own land. Instead, he’d been taken as an exile in the first wave of the Babylonian captivity. He was living in an unclean land as a refugee surrounded by every imaginable evil.

“It was the fifth year of the exile” (1:2). He’d been there five years! Don’t miss the weight of this. He was ripped from his country, taken from his livelihood, denied the privilege of serving as a priest, and isolated from the presence of God . . . for five years. No Word of the LORD. No temple. No access to God. Furthermore, in the ancient world the victory of a nation meant the victory of their god. Thus, Babylon’s victory over Israel implied its victory over Israel’s God. Needless to say, Ezekiel was experiencing defeat in every conceivable way.

Humor me for a moment—imagine how Ezekiel must have felt.

Take him off his prophetic high horse and think about him as a real person. Do you think he felt abandoned by God? Possibly forgotten? Do you think he felt as if God were out of control or had given up on his people?

Christopher Wright insightfully writes,

There is no reason to imagine that Ezekiel would have been immune to the doubts and questions that would have settled like the dust of the Mesopotamian plains on the huts of the exiles. For five years he had mourned and wondered and questioned. Five years is a long time for a refugee. The conclusion that Yahweh had abandoned them must have been close to irresistible.[1]

Everything around Ezekiel pointed towards the conclusion that Yahweh had indeed abandoned him. But life is not always as it seems, nor is everything we feel the ultimate reality. Circumstances have a powerful way of shaping our feelings, but God stands above our circumstances and often works in mysterious ways. Thus, it is God’s Word, not our feelings, which offers the true interpretation of reality.

The Word of the LORD

Such is the case in the book of Ezekiel. It’s only when the Word of the LORD comes to Ezekiel that he understands what’s going on. He discovers all of his training as a priest was to prepare him for his true calling as a prophet. He realizes Babylon and its gods had not won the day. Instead, Yahweh, the God of all the heavens and earth, used Babylon as an agent of wrath to discipline wayward Israel. He learns the exile wasn’t happenstance; it was God’s sovereign plan to bring Israel to a place of recognition of sin and repentance from idolatry. He finds out God has a plan of restoration for his people, which he will initiate under the New Covenant.

Without the Word of the LORD coming to Ezekiel how could he have understood this? Praise God his Word did come to Ezekiel! We now have the written record of God interpreting redemptive history through Ezekiel in such a way that it gives us a filter greater than our feelings to make sense of circumstances. Ezekiel teaches us that despite everything we see and feel we can now we serve a God who is in control, meticulously working all things out to his ends for the glory of his name and the good of his people.

Ezekiel speaks powerfully to me about what’s really true. When I feel like God has abandoned me, I’m reminded God will never forsake those who have entered into covenant with him. When I feel like I’m spiritually and emotionally exiled, I’m reminded God pursues his children to the remotest parts of the earth—even into “Babylon.” When I feel like God doesn’t have a plan for my life, I’m reminded God is working all things out (including my life) for his purposes.

The Gospel of Christ

Moreover, Ezekiel points me forward to the supreme truth revealed in Christ. The prophet held out hope to languishing exiles that abandonment wasn’t the final word. God was going to bring about a New Covenant in which he would cleanse them and give them new hearts so they could be in right relationship with him (Ezek. 36:22-38). Christian, we are now living in the New Covenant. We are partaking in what Ezekiel longed to see. On this side of the cross, we have witnessed the climax of God’s prophetic promises in the person of the Son. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

You see, Jesus and his redemptive work is God’s final Word to us! The gospel, the good news that we can be in covenant relationship with God forever on the basis of the Son’s merit, is God’s definitive Word. God has spoken with finality about his love and commitment to us through the Son. So, when our feelings seek to distort this truth we must choose to believe the Word of the LORD as revealed in the gospel. Whatever you’re going through and feeling in this moment I want to remind you that Jesus is God’s Word to you—he’s your ultimate reality. His work on your behalf is the lens through which you can (and should!) interpret all of life.

[1] Wright, Christopher J.H. The Message of Ezekiel: A New Heart and a New Spirit. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001. Print.

Whitney Woollard has served in ministry alongside her husband Neal for over six years. She holds an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and just finished her Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. She is passionate about equipping disciples to read and study God’s Word well resulting in maturing affections for Jesus and his gospel message. Neal and Whitney currently live in Portland, OR where they love serving the local church. Follow her on Twitter @whitneywoollard.