"Show the House to the House of Israel"
by Harry Foster
(Published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, 1958)
"Son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: and let them measure the pattern" (Ezekiel 43:10)
Reading: Ezekiel 40:1-4; 43:1-12.
It seems that we must read thirty-nine chapters of Ezekiel's prophecies before we come to the essential theme of his ministry. Until this point the emphasis of his message has been mainly on warning or condemnation - perhaps a necessary preliminary to the end in view, but not the vision itself. With chapter forty we are introduced to the main revelation which he had to unfold: the Temple of God filled with His glory. Ezekiel saw a vision of the House, and was then commanded to make it known to God's people. "Show the house to the house of Israel..." What did it mean, to 'show the house'? Quite clearly the intention was that the people of God should see things as they ought to have been, as God meant them to be. In Ezekiel's day the testimony of the Lord was in a chaotic condition. Things were certainly not as God desired them to be. It was therefore the prophet's task to bring to their notice what had been lost, what must be recovered; what the Divine plans involved and how they could be realised.
Ezekiel was a priest, and spoke in 'typical' language. If we can perceive the spiritual meaning of his vision, it may help us to know what God wants of us in our day, for we are now 'His house' (Hebrews 3:6). We need to be shown the House. For this New Testament "house" we have the Word of God, given as a prophetic revelation of how the Church is constituted, how it should function, and what its end is meant to be. We need no new Ezekiel with his types, and no fresh Paul with his teaching, for the revelation has been given and written down. What we do need, though, and need very urgently, is to appreciate what the Spirit has revealed. We need to turn away from things as they are, things as men have made them, from the chaos and disorder into which the people of God have drifted, and to open our hearts and minds to Divine truth.
The Object of the Vision
The first vision of God's glory given to Ezekiel was associated with the destruction of the city. Since then, years had passed, both in his own history and in the history of God's people, and now he was to see the same glory in connection with the recovery of the city. He was to show the people the positive objective of God, that for which He had been clearing the way, and towards which He had been working. The judgment had to come in order that the glory might follow.
In that first vision of chapter 1, everything was focused on One Man, the Man of the Throne. Thank God that, whatever ruin and devastation there may be here on earth, the throne of Heaven still has God's Man "upon it above" (1:26). But the theme of the later vision is not one Man but a city, seeming to point to the Lord's desire for a Throne-people - a community of men here on earth who can provide for Him an adequate place for the soles of His feet.
The first vision seemed to depict heavenly power. It may be difficult, or even impossible, for us to realise the full content and tremendous implications of its symbolic language, but at least we can get the impression of the limitless energy and ability of God to get His will done. This is of primary importance - to know that the mighty Spirit of life has all the resources for the will of God to be fulfilled. Under the supreme government of God's Man on the Throne, the Spirit moves swiftly and irresistibly to bring glory to God. But all this was in the heavenlies, even though it touched the earth. Our present vision of the House seems to imply that we need to see how the Throne can be expressed in men, how the living power of the Spirit can produce a practical outworking on earth of the will of God. For God is very practical. And He expects us so to be. It may be inspiring to see how the mind of God has been perfectly expressed in Christ, and all the power of Heaven's Throne mediated through Him; but the Divine intention is that this should be worked out in His people here and now. The Church is meant to provide a Throne-people, concerning whom the Lord can say: "Son of man, this is the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst..." (43:7).
First Effect of the Vision
The first thing to notice is the immediate effect which the vision should produce. "Show the house... that they may be ashamed..." Unless this happens, we may reasonably wonder whether the vision has been truly seen. Those who think of the purpose of God in terms of things, of ideas, of ways and means, will probably be inflated by their vision. That is the kind of knowledge which puffs up. If our perception of what the Church should be makes us critical of others, or if it produces an impatient, carnal attempt to bring the thing into being, then the purpose of the revelation has been missed. So far as God is concerned, His first intention is to make us thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. God's purpose is not found in things and arrangements, but in a Person. The Church is only as it should be when Christ is everything. And when we see the glory of God in Christ, we do not blame others or make rash attempts to imitate Him; we fall broken and humbled at His feet. That is how it happened with Ezekiel. "I fell upon my face..." (Ezek. 1:28); "I fell at his feet as one dead..." (Rev. 1:17). It is always like that if we really meet the Lord.
The Gospels contain many stories of those who thus met Christ. Their first reaction was amazement. 'What a wonderful Person He is!' Alongside of this was deep humbling. They were utterly abased before His holy presence. Almost at the same time there was a dawning hope. 'If He is like that, then there is hope, even for me!' This is the shame which the Lord sought to produce in His faulty people; not the shame of despair but of hopeful contrition. And this is how the house of Israel was to receive the revelation of God's spiritual House: with a mixture of shame and hope.
The sight of the House would be sure to make them ashamed, for this was themselves as they were supposed to be and could have been. The glory of God ought to have been manifested in them, the power of God ministered through them. The vision of the ideal could not but make them ashamed of the way in which they had failed the Lord, come short of His glory, and deprived Him of His rightful place in the earth. There is at least a hint as to the cause of this shortcoming in the constantly repeated phrase: "Then shall they know that I am the Lord". Some sixty-two times in the chapters preceding this vision the phrase is used, suggesting by implication that things would never have been as they were if God's people had really known Him. This was the root cause of their failure - a lack of knowledge of the Lord. And it is the same lack which gives us cause for great shame in our day that the House of God occasions Him so much disappointment.
It was not only their shortcomings which brought shame, but even worse, the positive contradictions found among them. So much of Ezekiel's earlier chapters, together with the whole of Jeremiah's prophecies, must be set off in contrast to the vision of the ideal, of the House as it ought to have been. It was shameful indeed that a people so privileged, so carefully taught and so richly blessed, should live in such flagrant contradiction to what they professed. This, alas, is our shame too. Every bit of understanding of the will of God brings its own measure of responsibility for conformity of life. Our gravest shame is when we fail to live in accordance with what we know and profess. It is striking to see how manifestly the blessing of God can rest upon any of His children, even those with a very limited understanding of Divine things, provided that they are obeying to the full all the light they have. They may be new converts, or believers little taught as to the purposes of God; but, if they are fully obedient to what light they have, the Lord will be with them, and everybody will know that He is with them. When we pride ourselves on the things we know, but do not live up to them, then indeed we should be ashamed.
Ezekiel's method was the best way of producing such conviction: he was to do it by showing them the real thing. Better than condemnation, better than argument, better even than exhortation, let them see the spiritual reality. Show them the real thing, and that should make them ashamed of the faulty and the false.
Those who perceive what God meant the Church to be, have to demonstrate that reality in life: to proclaim, by what they are, the glory of a people who give the enthroned Lord a place to dwell among them. We are not to theorize about such places. We cannot, even if we try, go around trying to set them up. We can only be a testimony, and thus by our very constitution and behaviour 'show the house'. This is the essence of our united ministry. This is what we are here for. Such a corporate expression of Christ, maintained in the fulness of the Spirit, should bring both conviction and hope. Instead of regarding Scriptural truths as unpractical and incapable of realisation in our day, believers should be made to know and believe that God intends the vision to be fulfilled.
So Ezekiel announced to the house of Israel that there was now hope. The full thought of God could, even at that late date, be expressed in them, provided that they were really contrite and in earnest. "If they be ashamed...", then 'make them know the form and the fashion, and the goings out and the comings in...' (43:11). There is hope if there is hunger. The glory which departed can come back by the way it went, and fill again the House which it once filled, if only they are ashamed.
Implications of the Vision
So much for the effect of the vision. Let us now consider some of its implications.
(1) Its Only Meaning is Christ
Firstly, we must realise that the House of God means nothing if it is not an expression of Christ. Those who study the types set forth in the Tabernacle and in Solomon's Temple know that everything portrays some feature of Christ. This metal, this colour, this material, this measurement - all speak of Him. Christ is seen everywhere, neither time nor place being given to anything which does not speak of Him. In the same way, the Church has no meaning apart from Christ. It is not something instead of Christ, nor even something in addition to Christ, which we are to be shown, but Christ everywhere, Christ in all, Christ and only Christ filling all things. The Church is nothing in itself. Our vision is not Christ plus something; it is the full meaning and implication of Christ, and that is something infinite.
It is striking that, in order that he might see this vision, Ezekiel was set down "upon a very high mountain" (40:2). It reminds us of that other 'high mountain' where the three apostles had their vision of the Transfiguration, the vision of the glory of God in a Human Being. The spiritual truth behind Ezekiel's vision is the same glory, and it is in the same Human Being, but expressed in a vast number of members, as a house or a city. The House must be composed of members of Christ; it has no meaning apart from Christ. Every part of it must be judged by the question: Does this express something of Christ? Has this a meaning in relation to Christ? If not, it is rejected. There can be no pleasure for God and no Divine glory in it. Moreover, it must be maintained in the true Spirit of Christ. It is not enough for things to be correct, to be Scriptural or orthodox. They must be held and maintained in the true Spirit of Christ. The Church was meant to be radiant and filled with heavenly glory, because filled with Christ - displaying Christ at every turn. There is no meaning in this House except it be the meaning of Christ.
(2) It is Measured in Human Terms
It also means nothing if it is not measured in human terms; that is, if the truths are not really expressed in practical ways in the lives of those who compose it. In these chapters we find a great deal about measurements. It may seem to some that there is too much. Whatever this means, our only purpose now is to consider the unit of measurement, the stick which was used for the purpose. "Behold... in the man's hand a measuring reed of six cubits long, of a cubit and a handbreadth each" (40:5). The "cubit" was essentially a measurement associated with human life. Normally it denoted the distance from a man's elbow to his wrist, or to the tips of his fingers. In this case it was the longer cubit, the special kind of cubit, for it is associated with the unique 'Man', God's New Man. Everything tends to remind us that these figures, though symbolic, are dealing not with mere ideas or theories, but with that which is closely identified with every day human life. The "six cubits long" confirms this thought, for six is man's number. So we see that the vision only has value in the degree in which it is wrought out, lived out, in men's daily experience.
(3) The River Flowing Out
Thirdly, the vision means nothing unless the river of life flows out from its heart, as we find described in chapter 47. This is the function of the City, of the House, so far as its manward side is concerned - to send out streams of living water to the dead and thirsty world around. The vision means nothing if it is shut up to itself. God will disown such a house. It cannot be His, for His House is the place from which the river flows. This is not a society for mutual self-admiration or preservation: it is a great world-centre, which is constantly sending out streams of blessing to those who so desperately need it. The Church must have an outflow. It may be more correct to say that it must have an overflow. But what an overflow! Ezekiel was amazed as he saw a trickle become a stream, the stream a river, and the river a mighty torrent. "Show the house...", the Lord had said, "that they may be ashamed..."
(4) All the People in Their Inheritance
Fourthly, this vision resulted in a dividing up of the whole land into the true inheritance of all the tribes. For this we must read chapter 48. As the narrative proceeds, this point may seem secondary, almost a by-product of the main vision; nevertheless, it is surely a most important matter that the whole people of God should be found in full possession of their inheritance in Him. It has always been thus, when the House is in its right place, and really fulfilling the purpose of God for it, then this becomes the key to all the rest.
If the Lord's Throne is established among His people, then the people will be led into their own appointed inheritances. All the tribes are provided for, but the divisions are quite different from anything previously stated about them, and seem to take no notice of history or geography. Each is described as being "from the east side to the west side", which elsewhere is the Scriptural way of indicating the immeasurable, the infinite. If, therefore, we consider the spiritual lesson of this vision, we are confronted with the reminder that it is the privilege of some to provide God with a central place among a Throne-people, that the outcome may be untold blessing and fulness for all the rest. The whole Biblical conception of the 'remnant' or the 'overcomers', is that such are to be a key to the ultimate realisation of the will of God in the sum total of His people.
It was in this spirit that Paul determined to concentrate on the "one thing" of striving for "the prize" (Phil. 3:13,14). As Saul of Tarsus, his only idea in spiritual attainment was to outstrip his fellows, to go one better than them, and then to look down on them. That was carnal ground. When, however, as Paul, he moved on to spiritual ground, to resurrection ground in Christ, then his one idea was to be so true to the Lord as to benefit the rest, to be so utter for Christ that all Christ's people should be helped by his utterness. We do not help our fellow believers by compromise, by coming down on to a lower level with them. We help them by utterness, though of course it must be an utterness full of the love of Christ. Our wholehearted separation to the will of God may in some senses seem to condemn them. We regret this but cannot avoid it. Yet our ultimate hope is that we may inspire them to go on with us into the full inheritance in Christ.
(5) The Return of Hope
The supreme implication of the whole vision is that our God is the God of hope. He has not abandoned His original purpose of a Throne-people; He is able to bring back His glory into the House "by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east" (43: 4). We may sometimes almost despair as to whether it is possible for the Lord to fulfil in us the vision of the glory of His House, but we shall probably never feel quite so helpless as Ezekiel must have felt on the day when he saw the glory departing. He lived to see the glory return.
There is, indeed, a hint here of that "exceeding abundantly above..." which Paul spoke of in this very connection of God's spiritual House. In the new vision, not only are the dimensions much larger than before, but an altogether new quality is foretold: "This is the law of the house: upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the house" (43:12). Previously only a small section had been "the most holy", but now the whole edifice was to be filled with the glory of the sanctuary. So this call from God to "show the house" was not to mock His people, but to fill them - on the one hand, with shame at their own failure, and, on the other, with the hope of His mighty recovery.
The Basis of the Vision
We should notice that nowhere was it suggested that Ezekiel or anyone else should make this House. In Exodus, God had said: "Let them make me...", giving to Moses a vision which was really instruction for the builders. When the pattern of the Temple was communicated to David, it was in order that his son, Solomon, should set to work to construct the edifice. Nothing of similar nature is stated here. The Divine call was that Israel should take note of the temple, and behave accordingly.
We are not called on to set up or to construct the Church but to conform to it. This is the pattern. If we are ashamed of all our own failure, then let us measure its form and submit ourselves to its laws. It can only be realised in resurrection experience, when all that belongs to the old order has been put away in judgment. That is why Ezekiel for a long time had no positive vision, and for a while had no message at all to Israel. The Lord closed his mouth until the city was destroyed, the old House burned up and all lingering hopes about that old order were gone. Then, and only then, was the way clear for the new beginning.
After chapter 39 there is no further occurrence of the phrase: "Then shall they know that I am the Lord"; but the new emphasis is stated in another expression: "He brought me...", "The Spirit brought me...", "He brought me back...", "He brought me through..." What tremendous changes would come into the Church of today if not only individuals but communities and assemblies were willing and committed to be brought by the Spirit into all the will of God. This is all God asks. He has no earthly form to be imitated; no pattern or model church to be reproduced. He seeks a people cut off from their old life by the judgment of the Cross, fully on resurrection ground in Christ and committed without reserve to obey the Holy Spirit at all costs. This would surely make way for the return of the glory!