Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives. The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version. At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture. To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.
Questions & Observations
Q. (Ezekiel 17:1-10): Not sure why God told this story with a riddle. I had a little trouble following it. But, know that I think about it, I guess God is showing how one grows and prospers. On a side note, this riddle sounds like something I would hear from The Doors. I wonder if they read Ezekiel.
A. Here’s how I would break it down: the cedar is the royal family of David, and the “top” of the tree, which the eagle captures, is the most recent king. The first eagle is Nebuchadnezzar, who took the “top” people of Israel back to Babylon. Those who were left behind, not being the best of the society, were mere “vines”. These vines, those not taken by Nebuchadnezzar, including the king Zedekiah, rebelled against the first eagle by reaching out to a second eagle, most likely the Pharaoh of Egypt. God is condemning the actions of the “king of the vines” by saying that Egypt will not rescue them from Babylon, and all will be lost. But in the same sense, God has also described the way that the righteous of the nation will be saved, for the first eagle has “preserved” the cedar in a foreign land. The real kicker is in 17:22, which contains a Messianic prophecy about the ruler that God Himself will “plant” or make king. This king, Jesus, is of David’s line (the cedar), and will be chosen by God to be the eternal King that will draw all nations to Himself.
Q. (17:24): That last comment “I will do what I said” reminds me of the steadfastness of God and also of the free will vs. predestination argument. Rob, you are on the “free will” side. I agree with this because we have obviously seen where God gives people choices and most of the time, we read that they make the wrong one. But, we have also seen where God empowers people where things are done that they could not do on their own and may have not chosen to do. So, that’s not free will. Maybe God just strengthens intentions, i.e. an invading army would become stronger with God’s help and win. For Christians, we really only have one choice and that is to follow God. So, there are no options if you want to receive God’s blessings. I don’t think God would interfere with someone’s faith in Him. I think He tests us with some pretty harsh circumstances (like he did with Job), but as long as we remain steadfast and see the only real choice — if we want to receive His gifts — is to follow him. And on the predestination side, do you know of anywhere in the Bible that says God purposefully created someone to fail or be evil?
A. Ok, first, let’s get a few things straight; because I think you’ve rigged this question a bit (not intentionally of course). God does not require us to follow Him in order to bless us (as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:45), but He blesses all of His children just for the sake of them being His children. What you are describing is the opposite effect: you see or realize the salvation that God offers in Christ as a blessing, and IT IS! But, many do not see it that way: Muslims, Jews, atheists, etc. They see Jesus as not being divine, or not dying for our sins, or not even existing (which is frankly stupid, but a discussion for another day) or something like that. This does NOT mean that God does not bless them, quite the opposite. God provides what we might call “basic” blessings upon all people, no matter how sinful. For Christians who have come to faith, we believe that the Bible teaches that Holy Spirit plays an active role in our lives, but only after our saving faith. Those who do not have faith in Christ do not have access to this particular blessing, but this hardly means God does not bless them.
So I think the question of God’s determinism as it comes to human choice is not as slanted as you have indicated. You can certainly point to a large number of references to human choice as you have mentioned. There is a degree of interplay between what we might call God’s overriding will and man’s free will that is simply impossible to know this side of heaven. We will only be able to see the way that our choices (or whatever role we have in our eternal destiny) and God’s will intersect on the other side. So as a manner of focus in this life, I choose to focus on human choice, there are others (primarily Calvinists) who choose to focus on God’s sovereignty, but neither position has all the answers- there is simply no way to know how these two positions fit together. As to your question about specific people in the Bible and their “predestined” role, let’s revisit that question when we read the book of Romans (Paul addresses the topic there and I don’t want to jump ahead too much) or if a relevant scripture comes up before we get there.
Q. (18:4): Historically, God has punished multiple generations for the sin of one. It appears that He is changing His rule here? “4 For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die.” Personally, I don’t understand why God would turn such a 180 turn on this subject. I thought He punished several generations for sins as a deterrent to try to stop them from sinning.
A. I think that there is no change in God’s “policy” if you will, but what God is talking about to Ezekiel is related to what we have established before. In Exodus 34:7, God tells Moses that He will “punish” children to the third and fourth generation for the sins of the parents. It says nothing about their deaths for the sins of their parents; and while some might see that as a subtle distinction, God is, well, in the details. What God is addressing is whether the children should DIE for the sins of the parents, and to me that is a whole other can of worms. Each of us (says the person who believes in free will) must make our own decisions when it comes to God, and each generation has to make its own choices, no matter what their fathers or grandfathers (or mothers or grandmothers) have done. So while God may indeed punish us for the sins of our parents, we still have some form of capacity to choose God of their own will. While the generations may be interconnected via good and bad decisions parents make (as we have discussed), the burden of life verses death lies with each of us in every generation.
Q. (19:1-14): OK, I am trying to connect the characters here. At first, I thought it may be Joseph was the first cub and Benjamin the second. Don’t think that works out. Then, I thought that the first cub was Israel and the second, Judah. But, then who would the vine be? Can you clear the confusion here?
A. I think the lioness is Judah (David’s symbol was a lion), and the two cubs are her two sons who have been recent kings: the first, viscous, cub (verse 3) is Jehoahaz, who ruled for only a short time and was taken to Egypt as a prisoner (2 Kings 23:31-34), and the second cub is Zedekiah, who was taken to Babylon as a prisoner. Their fierceness and man-eating habits are most likely a subtle critique of their cruel and viscous rule that killed many people even in a short period of time.