The unique circumstance is detailed by Isaiah as he pronounces that with God’s coming the dead will stir, spirits will rise and respected leaders (living and dead) will rise from their thrones to acknowledge the One True God. Yes, they were and are kings over the nations but a day is coming when God will return and those who were feted in their lifetime will realise how small a thing it was compared to the majesty and glory of God who controls both time and circumstance!
I can remember as a child learning how the majority of dust that finds its way into a home arises from our decaying bodies – by that I mean, the erosion of minute skin follicles that collectively settle on surfaces until someone gets a duster or vacuum and cleans up. I also remember learning that skin replenishes itself every seven years – an obvious necessity given that we can’t erode skin without new skin appearing at some point to replace it.
With the development of DNA in more recent years, I remember hearing how within each human being, traces of star dust can be found. In other words, we are intrinsically linked to the physical act of Creation in a much larger way than first supposed – and why not if Adam is created from the soil of earth which is part of an expanding universe? Personally, I love the thought that within my DNA is the essence of the start of the universe, the far flung places on the farthest edge of the Milky Way or wherever. But what has this to do with ‘dust returning to the ground it came from and (our) spirit(s) returning to God?
Well, much as we may like to think that God and Creation are one and the same, this is inaccurate. We know this because from a theological perspective, God is the author of Creation. Indeed, Creation occurs through God’s spoken Word and made for Himself…but also for others things to inhabit and grow: humans, insects, mammals, dinosaurs, birds etc. Now, interestingly, the Holy Spirit who was instrumental in the creative act at the start of time, also figures in God’s rescue plan for humanity. The Holy Spirit who infills humans with the presence of the eternal God creates a blend between the physically created and the eternally present God. Hence, the reason why at the end of our lives, our dust returns to the ground it came from, and our spirit returns to God who gave it.’
Many years ago, I read Watchman’s Nee’s book ‘Release of the Spirit’ then later on his epic ‘The Spiritual Man.’ Both of which have helped to think of the ‘soul’ as the receptacle in which God’s Spirit operates. Now, while this verse seems strange in the sense that it suggests our spirit can be provoked to anger, there are three things to consider here:
- During the time of Ecclesiastes- long before the day of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit did not live within the person but came upon them at God’s direction to facilitate ‘one off’ acts to achieve God’s will.
- Because of this, it’s quite possible the term ‘spirit’ is used here to reference a sense of the person’s emotional response as to what is happening.
- The understanding of our own human spirit is different to that of God’s Spirit. The human spirit being carnal in nature as easily influenced by our human (carnal) nature.
However you understand the term ‘spirit’, one thing is sure – we as humans can easily be provoked to anger where rash actions land us in trouble. That is why we can say something that is cruel in the heat of the moment or hold on to a grudge even though slighted by someone many years earlier. In such times, the advice offered in the wisdom Book of Ecclesiastes is to not be quickly provoked because ‘anger resides in the lap of fools.’
Classified as one of the Bible’s great wisdom books, The Book of Ecclesiastes deals with deep questions about God, human life and our environment. Perplexing questions such as does the body have a soul? Is life meaningless? Can the outcomes of life be changed? And in this passage, it compares and contrasts the fate of human life with animal life.
It starts by questioning as to what is feasible and available for humans to know. After all, only God is omniscient (all-seeing) and can know what happens to the hidden things after death occurs . That’s why the different destinations that an animal and human might experience in their journey at the end of their life is an important one to consider. In one instance, the return of animals into the earth (a created state) from whence they came seems like an obvious outcome considering they have come from earth they to that they will return.
But what of humans? Are we the same? Do we live and die a spiritual death or is there more to life than that? The question as to whether anyone knows if the human spirit rises upwards or downwards is important because at the core of this christian understanding is the state of the soul and what outcome may occur at the end of our physical life on earth? Of course, this final state is measured in a variety of ways: some by people making death bed confessions as to how they have failed God. Others, in how they trusted God and chose to believe that the God who beings mercy into proceedings, will deliver on what has been promised and cause those who have believed in Jesus to rise to heaven for His Glory Sake.
Of course, whenever we attempt to think of what heaven is like…be that the temple or its inner courts, we are compromised by the imagination of others who have drawn, painted or designed a set for a film as to how they saw it to be like. For myself, when attempting to imagine what heaven is like, I can’t help but default to the images I watched in a film ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ fifty years ago. It starred a very young David Niven and I yet the images (filmed in black and white) seem to me to be be timeless. Given that we are told that however humans imagine ‘heaven’ it will be both a disappointment and a sad reflection of what it truly is like. The enormity of God’s presence remaining – infilling the courts with people who bow and kneel and sing praise to Him in tongues. So for now, the lesser image will have to suffice, but one day…
…journey back to Israel’s exodus in the desert when they came out of Egypt and the ark travelled with them. Each time they set up camp in a new location, the ark was placed in the centre of the community with various priestly family groups gathered around it in close proximity. Why? Because there was a fear that ‘ordinary’ Israelites might get lost and in the camp and inadvertently come too close to God and be consumed by holy fire. Another possible reason why God mentions hiding his face from the community is that many people believed that should they catch sight of God they would die. In short, God’s holiness would be seen as a holy and awesome thing. And yet, here is God declaring that in the future He will engage with people in the same way humans do – face to face. This is the ‘between the lines message’ made possible by the fact that God’s Holy Spirit would be within people.
And lastly, ‘beyond the lines.’ In the future, people will no longer need to carry an ark around or go to a certain place to find God with someone interceding on their behalf – why? Because God will live in each person through His Holy Spirit. No longer with they fear accidentally happening across God and catching a glimpse of his holiness and dying (more likely from a heart attack at the shock of it). God lives in us and can be reached at any time we lack without fear of death visiting us for being unclean before him. This is what God is doing and has done!
What I love about this scripture is God’s promise to ‘put’ his Spirit into the people. Of course, it is only when we factor in that it was spoken during the period we now refer to as the Old Testament that we realise its significance. God’s eternal plan of infilling his creation has begun.
Here we have the first inklings of what the disciples will encounter at Pentecost. Six hundred years on after the death of Ezekiel and Jesus instructs the disciples to wait on God’s Counsellor who will come to them after his departure. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples begin a period of fasting and praying in readiness for the Counsellor to come – but truth be told, they had no idea what to expect!
The Holy Spirit enters into each of them and – filled with the life and presence of God – they fall into the streets telling everyone the good news of Jesus. The persecution that follows only makes them bold and resilient. Soon their numbers grow as a handful of disciples multiply into the 2.18 billion followers in the world today. Not by clever marketing or strategy but because God lives within each person and what they have is good news. This is how we know ‘the Lord has spoken and he has done it!’ (Ezek 37v14)
‘Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, spread their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. 23 The glory of the Lord went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.24 The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the exiles in Babylonia in the vision given by the Spirit of God.’
In short, it doesn’t matter how the people of Israel fare in regard to their obedience to God because at the end of the day His Glory will prevail. Not only that, but He is mindful of those who are exiled and isolated – a salient encouragement and reminder for us in these times of Covid 19 and lockdown.
The reality is God loves you and me. Yes, we will fail Him because like sheep we will stray from time to time but that does not diminish His Love or concern for us who find ourselves locked up and in exiled. Why? Because the essence of His Being is to save and see us flourish. Be blessed!
- the divide between heaven and earth
- an idol positioned close to the inner court of God’s temple.
Whichever way you read this, something is wrong in Israel. It seems that not only have the people forgotten their God but some are also recognising and trying to supplant fertility idols in their acts of worship. (NB There’s no other reason for it to be so close to the inner court).
For me, whether it is a prophetic vision or a dream, the thing that strikes me is the image of Ezekiel being lifted from the ground by his hair. I don’t have much hair thesedays but I know all too well the excruciating pain that accompanies having one’s hair pulled for a moment let alone an ascent to somewhere between heaven and earth.
In summary, the message of this verse is that God is serious about idolatory. Why? Because it breaks relationship. It diminishes that which God wants to share with us. And of course, each of us knows the things that we sometimes allow to take precedence over our life. But this is not God’s desire for our lives as the Divine always seeks us to be free and full of His Holy Spirit. Our challenge is to respond to that call.