CONFOUNDED…2600 years ago, God's people petitioned Him to intervene in their national woes. They reasoned they deserved His benevolence because He had chosen them and blessed them in the past. God did not agree. "Not for your sake do I do this,” says the Lord God, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!” Ezekiel 36:32
God appointed the prophet Ezekiel to speak to His chosen people, called Israel, about their sins of pride and self-sufficiency, which effectively brought in other allegiances and idolatrous worship, leading to their exile in Babylon. "In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” Ezekiel 1:1
As we delve deeper into God's Word this week, not only do we find that the appointed fifth day of His fourth month is June 16 on our 2021 Gregorian calendar, we also receive wisdom and direction from this example of God’s interaction with the nation He called into existence. That nation continued into In the New Testament, where God’s Word says WE, who are identified by Christ’s name, are fellow citizens of Israel.
"Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ."
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit."
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." Ephesians 2:11-22
“Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!” God has only called out ONE spiritual nation, ONE body of people, as His own. Today, we are set apart by the word “Christ” to the world, but God identifies us as part of ISRAEL. There is only ONE nation under ONE God.
“…While I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” Yes, it’s definitely confounding that after 2600 years, God Almighty is STILL speaking to Israel, as we Christians hear His Word repeated today through the exiled prophet Ezekiel. And it’s further confounding to realize that the heavens opened and Ezekiel saw visions of God while standing on the Kebar River, identified as the ancient Pishon River, a headwater of the river watering the Garden of Eden. It still flows today in the country we know as Iraq.
We are hopefully on our way to being thoroughly confounded and ashamed by our own prejudice and pride as we are confronted by the ancient biblical list of folks God raised up in the area we know today as Iraq. It reads like a Who's Who of the Bible. Abraham's home was originally in Ur, which is also in modern-day Iraq. In neighboring Nahor, Abraham's servant found a wife, Rebekah, for his son, Isaac. Later, Isaac and Rebekah's twin son Jacob, renamed Israel by God, spent 20 years working for his chosen wife, Rachel, in Paddan, Aram, located in today's Iraq. And then he ended up with two wives. And they were sisters! Confounding, isn't it?
And there are many more facts that we have ignored. Daniel and his famous friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were exiled in current day Iraq, known then as Babylon. Esther and Mordecai, along with Ezekiel, also lived in exile in the area. Mosul, Iraq is home to the ruins of the biblical city of Nineveh, the destination of Jonah's whale adventure and God's appointed revival, also recounted in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The mighty warrior, Nimrod, ruled Babylon from the same area and probably helped build the Tower of Babel nearby. It is there that Genesis 11:9 records the first biblical usage of "confound". "Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth."
Indeed, without God's Omniscient Confounding in the first place, there would have been no need for the Pentecost Holy Spirit tongues of fire, uniting and equipping all language to manifest God's Glory and omnipotence to the whole world. Iraq was also one of the countries gathered at Pentecost and equipped specifically for that task. Acts 2 identifies "those dwelling in Mesopotamia... declaring the wonders of God” in one tongue. Mesopotamia is a Greek word referring to the region lying between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. It points biblically to Babylon and the descendants of the Jews who stayed there after they were freed from captivity. Known today as Iraq, the disciple Thomas ministered there in the 1st century following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Today, Christians in Iraq are considered one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the entire world!
Driving home His point, "confound" is also repeated by the prophet Jeremiah 19 times in connection with God's coming judgment. One of the most thought-provoking verses, Jeremiah 51:17 says "Every man is brutish by his knowledge; every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them."
Even though God’s chosen people He named Israel had followed His “Shekinah” glory cloud for 40 years and had seen the Lord’s Glory hover over the Ark of the Covenant, His presence in the temple or in the cloud became less important than the graven image of the temple or the cloud itself and their worship practices and rituals that went along with it. They began to think of the temple building and its adornments and priests as sources of holiness and glory. Since they obviously had been "confounded by the graven image", God allowed their enemies to breech the walls of their capital, Jerusalem, and send them into exile.
It really should come as no surprise that the words "confound" and "confounded" are repeated a total of 55 times to God's people in translations of His Word. "But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." 1 Corinthians 1:27
We see the word in action through the scripture God has appointed for us this week. When we compare Ezekiel 1:26-27 “...high above on a throne was a figure like that of a man… glowing… as if full of fire… and brilliant light surrounded him” with Revelation 1:13-17, as John writes, "…I turned and saw… someone like a son of man… his eyes were like blazing fire… his face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
In Ezekiel 1:28, the prophet describes the brilliant light surrounding the man "like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him." In Revelation 4: 2, 4 we are confounded again with these words. “…There before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it… A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne."
In the very first chapter of Ezekiel, four living creatures are below the throne of one who had "a figure like that of a man" with “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." In Revelation 4, John describes the figures of four living creatures around the throne, who never stop saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." The twenty-four elders join the living creatures, singing "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being."
Combine all this with the startling illumination of John 1:1-3, 14: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
Can there be any doubt that this figure of a man Ezekiel saw, and the one on the throne in Revelation are one and the same? Yes, Ezekiel was literally standing downstream of Eden on the Kebar River, exiled by the world, but right where he needed to be to see the glory of Jesus Himself and hear Him speak!
Listen as He speaks to us, too, right this very minute in Ezekiel 2: "He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious people; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’ Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe."
Yes, God is still speaking to the citizens of Israel, us 21st century Christians. We must experience lament and mourning and woe and be ashamed and confounded by God's Word to see who we REALLY are.
1 Peter2:6, repeating Isaiah 28:16, closes our today’s lesson perfectly. "You also, as living stones, are built up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Therefore also it is contained in the scripture, 'Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious:
“And he that believes on him SHALL NOT BE CONFOUNDED."