'A single light burns brightly'
An extract from New Daylight January-April 2020
Timeless but relevant
We’ve been touched by the response of readers to this week’s New Daylight reflections on Ezekiel, written by editor Sally Welch. Among the comments we’ve received are:
I am a New Daylight subscriber in Canada and wanted to say a huge thank you to BRF staff for the wonderful notes that are so inspiring. We here in Canada are experiencing the self isolation, fears and unknowns of COVID-19 as you are in England. The readings by Sally Welch that started Sunday have been so encouraging and uplifting at this time. It feels like they were written for just this situation in the world. That is one of the amazing facts of scripture - the message is timeless, but the writers of BRF make them relevant.
I am writing to say how very pertinent the present readings from Ezekiel seem to be in the present worldwide crisis. We're only two days into those readings, but both yesterday's notes and today's seem so very applicable to the situation we are all facing, that it is almost as if Sally Welch knew what lay ahead when she was writing them. Knowing that these notes were probably written several months ago, there is no way that this could have been the case of course, but it goes to show, I believe, the way writers of the notes can be directed and used by God to highlight messages and words of assurance and comfort from the Bible.
Because they’ve clearly meant so much to so many people, at home and across the world, we’re sharing the introduction and first reading, from 22 March, here.
'In a strange land'
The book of Ezekiel is one of the more challenging books we will encounter, containing as it does ‘the promise of endless smiting’, in the words of one of my children. It certainly contains some very lurid passages.
First it is the turn of the people of Israel to be told in great detail what will happen to them as a punishment for their continual disobedience of God and their fracturing of their covenant with him. Next, the book moves on to describe the disastrous levels of punishment that will thunder down upon those nations that oppose Israel, to such a degree that we wonder what has become of the loving God who wants only the best for each one of us.
However, these messages of anger and vengeance are not the primary theme of the book. What becomes gradually clearer as the chapters unroll is the purpose that God has for all the people of the world – that they should know his voice – and the particular role that Israel has – ensuring God’s voice is heard. This role is not merely a community responsibility but an individual one as well; spreading the message of God’s power and the glory of his kingdom is one that all people are tasked with, both then and now.
This teaching is combined with the visions of that glory and the promises and hope that are offered by the prophet to a world desperate to hear words of a future containing freedom, justice, love and hope. And, of course, the book of Ezekiel includes those two golden passages – the promise that each one of us will have our ‘hearts of stone’ turned into ‘hearts of flesh’ with the advent of the Spirit, and the picture of the ‘valley of dry bones’ brought to life by that same Spirit.
Written at a turning point in Israel’s history, these pictures of hope can speak to us just as they did to the children of Israel, far from home, refugees in a strange land.
Who was Ezekiel? Much of what we know comes from his own writings. The Hebrew name means ‘God strengthens’, and it was certainly an appropriate name when we consider the circumstances in which he worked. Initially living in Jerusalem, Ezekiel, like his father before him, was a priest in the temple there, carrying out the prescribed tasks and duties of that most privileged of groups. Serving in the holiest of sites, the place where God had chosen to reside among his people in the land that he had given them, Ezekiel must have felt the honour of such a position. Then the worst disaster happens – Judah is invaded by King Nebuchadnezzar and its inhabitants are sent into exile in Babylon. In one swift action, Ezekiel loses everything he has and is forced to begin a new life in a foreign country.
Although a fortunate few of us will have spent our whole lives in settled happiness, most people will experience disaster of one type or another in the course of their lives. Perhaps the events will not be as dramatic as occupation by a foreign power and subsequent exile, but traumatic occurrences, such as job loss, financial upset, serious illness or death, have the power to overthrow our lives completely, so that we lose all sense of stability and security. At those times it is easy to lose sight of God or to find our trust in him frayed or even vanished. But it is while standing with his fellow exiles by a strange river in an unfamiliar land that Ezekiel has a vision of God that sustains him in his difficulties.
In the darkest times, a single light burns brightly.