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Oct17FriAre we too content in exile? October 17, 2014 by Cadet Jonathan Taube
Reading Psalm 137, set against the backdrop of exile, it's clear that the Jews were more than a little homesick. “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion,” writes the Psalmist. But the reality of their situation did not dawn on them immediately. Along the banks of one such river, the prophet Ezekiel was raised up to speak to “a nation of rebels” (see Ezekiel 2:3) who refused to recognize God's righteous judgement, even as they pined for home.
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Like all the other prophets, Ezekiel called for repentance from idolatry and syncretism (incorporating beliefs or practices from other religions). In chapter eight, one of his most powerful visions, God shows Ezekiel the extent to which idolatry had taken root in his people through glimpses of the increasingly offensive, sinful practices still taking place in Jerusalem––in the temple itself.
The significance of this vision is not easily overstated; the temple was the seat of God's glory and presence in Israel. The rituals and rhythms of worship in the house of God centred them in their identity as a nation set apart by God. The temple was the heart of the people. Defiling the temple wasn't only apostasy, it was a corruption and abandonment of the identity they'd been rescued for and redeemed into.
Idolatry and Identity
Idolatry is always an issue of identity. Jesus said that the things we treasure above all else will hold our heart (see Matthew 6:21). We know someone not from their external appearance, but from who and what they love––where they invest their heart. Like the popular diet maxim, “You are what you eat,” it's also true that “You are what you worship.”
The Israelites who remained in Zion continued to practice idolatry, and the ones in exile didn't recognize what the Lord was doing until it was too late. After Ezekiel witnessed the depths to which his people had fallen in their rush to embrace the seductive gods and destructive worship practices of the neighbouring nations, he was shown another shocking vision: the glory of the Lord's presence departing from the temple. Without God's presence, the beautifully constructed temple was just a stone heart for a dead and dying people.
Repentance and Return
Under the new covenant inaugurated by Christ, our hearts and our community are now God's spiritual temple. Have we allowed our love for God to be supplanted by an institutional affiliation? Has our zeal for the kingdom been replaced by a mere sense of duty? Have we diluted the gospel by mixing it with cultural idols and personal preferences?
Just as worshipping false gods in the earthly temple was a betrayal of God-given identity, we too run the risk of becoming stone-hearted if we don't remain rooted in the love of Jesus. If the Israelites' betrayal brought about an earthly exile under the first covenant, then we are destined for spiritual exile under the new covenant if we allow our hearts to be led astray. Will we only recognize our fruitless efforts apart from the Lord once we've wasted years in exile?
If we are to honour God and be The Salvation Army that God has raised us up to be, our spiritual identity must remain rooted in our eternal, powerful Lord. We must continually guard against the tendency to find our identity in either a romanticized vision of the past, or our best ideas for the present. We are God's people first and foremost, and whatever we are as Salvationists is meaningless if it threatens the Lord's rightful place in our hearts.
As Ezekiel called his people to repent and return to the God who could gather them from exile and give them a new, living heart, we too must exhort one another to not settle for a comfortable-but-unfruitful existence. Wherever we find ourselves losing ground in the salvation war, we must examine our hearts and look for anything that does not belong. Anointed as one Army, with one critical mission, and one wonderful message, we must solely follow the only one who can secure victory.
Cadet Jonathan Taube is currently enrolled at the College for Officer Training in Chicago. God has grown a deep passion in his heart for discipleship, world missions and incarnational expressions of the gospel. You can keep up with his journey at iamjonathantaube.com.