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The Glory Departs

Jealous is one of the names of God. "The LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exod. 34:14). This He made clear to His people when He first gave them His law. They were not to make a graven image, nor bow down to one, and the reason given was, "for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God". Jealousy in this sense is a very right thing. God is jealous of the love and worship of His people. It belongs to Him and He claims it wholly for Himself. We understand therefore how He felt when, in the visions of God, He brought His servant Ezekiel from his captivity in Babylon to the door of His sanctuary in Jerusalem, and showed him the image of jealousy which had been set up there. How deeply it affected the heart of God we can tell from His words, "Son of man, seest thou what they do? even the great abominations that the house of Israel do commit here, that I should go far off from My sanctuary?" (Ezek. 8:6).

Those were exceedingly sad days in the history of God's people. God had sent His messengers one after another, "rising up early and sending; because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling place" (2 Chron. 36:15). But the love which burned in His heart toward them and the earnestness with which He pleaded with them, failed to provoke any response in their hearts. "They mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy" (2 Chron. 36:16). Thus Jeremiah's prophecy found its fulfilment, and they were carried away into captivity for seventy years until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths.

The carrying away was in three stages. In the third year of Jehoiakim's reign a great multitude, including Daniel and his companions, were taken to Babylon, and part of the vessels of God's house. The second lot of captives was carried away in Jehoiachin's reign and among them Ezekiel the priest. God had His men placed; Daniel in the palace of the king, there to spread abroad the knowledge of the true God; Ezekiel down with the captives, God's mouthpiece to His people even when they were in captivity. It was before the final overthrow and the third carrying away in Zedekiah's reign that God took Ezekiel in the Spirit to Jerusalem and showed him the fearful abominations of those who still remained there, and who, far from being checked by the judgement which had overtaken their fellows, were plunging deeper and deeper into sin.

Ezekiel chapter 8 is a solemn warning as to how far God's people can depart from Him when they begin to despise His word. The image they had set up was calculated to provoke the Lord to jealousy. But there was more, and worse, for Ezekiel to see. God brought him to the door of the court and showed him a hole in the wall, and inside seventy of the elders of Israel, representatives of the nation, each one with a censer in his hand, worshipping creeping things and abominable beasts and all the idols of the house of Israel. And while the seventy elders were worshipping thus under cover of darkness, for their deeds were evil, the women were weeping for their idol at the door of the gate of the Lord's house. Jaazaniah was in the midst of those seventy men and his name means "Jehovah will hear", but they had long since forgotten the truth enshrined in his name. Indeed, they had become so debased that they were judging the Lord by the standards of their own idols, which had eyes but saw not, for they said, "The LORD seeth us not". But the LORD did see, even into the dark chambers of imagery, and His heart was deeply grieved for His people.

A hole in the wall! A hidden door! Chambers of imagery! Have these things any voice for God's people today? Paul says that when the Lord comes He "will bring to light the hidden things of darkness". If they are going to be brought to light in that day it is obvious that they are present in this day, and we do well to search our hearts lest there be hidden things which are provoking the Lord to jealousy. "My little children, guard yourselves from idols" Wrote John the beloved elder, and an idol can be anything in our hearts which takes the place that belongs to the Lord. Let us remember that God has set our secret sins in the light of His countenance and nothing is hidden from Him.

"Hast thou seen this, 0 son of man? thou shalt again see yet greater abominations than these". This time Ezekiel was taken to the inner court of the Lord's house, and at the door of the temple, between the porch and the altar he saw about twenty-five men with their backs towards the temple of the Lord. Maybe they were representatives of the priestly courses, but certainly they represented the nation as a whole, which had deliberately turned its back upon God. Now the fearful time had come for God to turn His back upon them. In chapter 9 Ezekiel describes six men, each with his slaughter weapon in his hand, standing beside the brazen altar. The command was given to go through the city and smite, "and begin at My sanctuary" God said (9:6). That is where judgement always begins. "The time is come for judgement to begin at the house of God"

(1 Pet. 4:17). Privilege carries with it responsibility, and if it is true, as we believe it is, that none are so privileged as those who dwell in God's house, then it follows that none are more responsible. God's house is a holy place, and at the time when Peter wrote God was using the sufferings through which in His perfect will He was allowing His people to pass, to judge it and cleanse it. Those suffering saints wondered at the fiery trial which had come upon them. Peter said it was to prove them, and they were to learn that it would have its cleansing effect upon their lives, "for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin" (1 Pet. 4:1). We also need to be saved from the insidious effect of the evil world through which we are passing, and it may well be that as we take our stand against it, we shall be involved increasingly in persecution and suffering. Those who take their stand for truth in God's house must expect this. Let us not try to escape it, but rather learn to rejoice in it. "If a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name" (1 Pet. 4:16).

Judgement is God's strange work, and never does He move hastily toward it. For a long time He had waited patiently for His people. Jeremiah himself had pleaded with them for twenty-three years (Jer. 25:3). Even when the time came that He must forsake them, He was loath to do so as we learn from the way in which His glory gradually departed. From the threshold of the house (Ezek. 9:3) to the East gate (10:19) Ezekiel watched it gradually departing, until finally "the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city" (11:23). "Ichabod" was once again written over God's sanctuary on earth. "I have forsaken Mine house, I have cast off Mine heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies" (Jer. 12:7). What a lament! Surely the heart of God is laid bare in these words. How much it cost Him - "the dearly beloved of My soul".

It is good to note that there were some whose hearts still beat true to the Lord. However dark the day, in whatever age, there have always been some. The man clothed in linen, with the writer's inkhorn, put a mark upon the foreheads of all the men who sighed and cried for the abominations of their people. "Come not near any man upon whom is the mark" was God's instruction, as His judgement was executed in the land. God's judgements are always discriminating. But although the slaughter weapon never touched them, it must have been as a sword to their hearts when they saw God's house desecrated and finally burned with fire. It was true it was only a shell now, for God's presence was not there. But oh, how they loved it still, for all the memories that were enshrined in it. Graphically Asaph describes the scene as Nebuchadnezzar's men plundered the building which king David had said must be "exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries".

"They seemed as men that lifted up

Axes upon a thicket of trees.

And now all the carved work thereof together

They break down with hatchet and hammers.

They have set Thy sanctuary on fire;

They have profaned the dwelling place of

Thy name even to the ground" (Psa. 74:5-7).

We pass over to New Testament times and recall how the apostle Paul a wise master-builder and his fellow-workers laboured hard to build God's spiritual house; and even before their work was completed, they saw the plunderers starting to tear down what had been built up. To the elders of Ephesus he said, "from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them". Peter wrote about them, "false teachers who shall privily bring in destructive heresies". They destroyed themselves, of course, in the process, as Peter said they would, but alas, they destroyed others also, those who followed their lascivious doings. Before the turn of the century John wrote from his exile home in Patmos to the seven churches of God in Asia, and some of these were in very poor spiritual condition. They were still God's house, over which the Lord Jesus was Son, and He walked in the midst of the golden lampstands. How long they lasted we do not know, but we do know that by the second century the lovely truths of God's house were being hacked away and replaced by such heresies as baptismal regeneration, the elevation of clergy above laity, etc., which things persist in Christendom to the present time.

A careful examination of the writings of the apostles reveals that the landslide began when the word of God lost the primary place which it must have in the hearts of disciples, if God is to continue to dwell among them. The house of God is conditional in character. "Whose house are we, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end" (Heb. 3:6). In the time of the apostles the call rang out, "Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts". That "today" is an ever present one for the people of God.

In subsequent months in this series of articles we shall be considering how these glorious truths were recovered by godly men some eighty-five years ago, when this magazine was first published. They saw the pattern of God's house in the New Testament Scriptures and separated themselves to build for God according to it. Costly it was for most of them, but they have handed down to us a heritage of truth which is precious beyond words. Let us love it, and serve it in our generation, and pass it on to the generation following, remembering the apostle wrote,

"the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).

We can each be among those faithful men if it is in our hearts to be so.