A review of Ezekiel’s renewed temple narrative in regard to the church and restoring the humanity, welfare and economics of local community.
Becoming followers of Christ, loving our enemies, rebuking the rich, protecting the poor. He finds our lukewarmness distasteful. (Rev 3:16)
As I read in a recent article, the Covid crisis isn’t the great leveller, but the great revealer. It reveals our disparity. An economics of competition rather than care has left many without health care, local agricultural and industrial capability, and then these same people have been told to lockdown, wash their hands, and observe distancing… with no money, food, work, water, health care, or even a plan for survival. An economy with trillions of dollars sitting in private funds, with governments knowing a pandemic would come, refused to spend on preparation. The vulnerable, the elderly and health workers were not protected. The poor who pay for our economy in taxes, low wages, and high prices, paid again in lockdown for our protection from the disease.
When you look at the Christian landscape you see on one hand an “evangelicalism” keen on the gospel of personal faith, but also often aligned with the economics of competition and the geo-politics that goes with it, believing this works in with a “last days” scenario. You also see a different kind of vision, of new creation beginning in the church, the restoration of local communities and a new economics of care spreading in our nations, like the kingdom of God Jesus summoned us to in repentance. This is the biblical apocalypse, meaning to unveil or reveal. The Covid crisis reveals a crisis of inhumanity, contrasted to the kingdom of God in which the world is restored.
Ezekiel – Return from Exile, to Rebuild Local Community in Love
Ezekiel depicts Israel after their return from exile in Babylon. The graves of their Babylonian captivity are opened, and new life comes to the nation of God’s people. There are many twists and turns in the vision, not on God’s part, but because the fulfilment doesn’t go as natural man would have thought. First of all (and this might be the hardest pill to swallow, still today), the vision wasn’t for national Israel. National Israel were as stiff necked as the rest of the nations. Rather, it is the remnant of Israel, the people of faithfulness among them, who will join with the faithful redeemed from all the nations and together they will constitute the new Israel. This was the plan ever since Abraham, where God promised to create one family from all the nations of the earth.
Ezekiel used apocalyptic language (symbolic imagery) to portray Israel’s new life in Christ. Ezekiel’s prophecy fulfilled Israel’s salvation hopes, drawn from their long-ago Exodus from Egypt. This Exodus became a paradigm of gospel language, their being brought out from under the oppression of the ruling powers of this world. A twist here was that what Israel was being saved from didn’t just exist in other nations, but in the heart of Israel herself. This was the reason for their call, to display to the world our common fallenness, through Israel’s rejection and execution of the Son of God. So the return from captivity first occurs in our own heart. It is a return to faithfulness, rather than a deliverance from other nations. This is what national Israel struggled with in the message of Jesus. They thought he should have come to deliver them from the other races.
You could say that this is where their gospel paradigm of Exodus broke down for them. In the Exodus imagery, the enemy nations are vanquished, which is why Israel are released. But in the gospel of Christ, we are reconciled with our enemy. The cross is vertical and horizontal, reconciling us both to God and to each other. The enemy is then shifted from being a racial issue, to become the state of our own heart that causes us to reject our neighbour and the poor. This is the real enemy of community, that we each see ourselves as better than the other, having an exceptional status, rather than as people called to serve the despised in our mutual restoration.
This is where the prophets of the Old Testament depart from all other religions of that time. It is in turning the Exodus narrative, as Ezekiel did, into one where God doesn’t stand for our exceptionalism, but for a deliverance of our own heart, available to all ethnicities, where we become one, without force or privilege over another.
Locally Enriched Community Encamped Around a Common Global Love
As part of his vision of new creation, Ezekiel portrays the 12 tribes of Israel encamped around the new temple. The temple represents the presence of God. The tribes encamped around the temple represents restored community. The vision uses imagery from the Wilderness wanderings, with the 12 tribes encamped around the tabernacle. It shows the nature of restored community, where the tribes represent local peaceful regions, who are drawn together by the love of God, not dominated by an oppressive centralised king, like back in Egypt. It’s a beautiful imagery of the world when Christ reigns in all our hearts. We are united by the bonds of love but live freely and peacefully as local democratised communities. This is the new heavens and new earth God is beginning to build through the witness of the church, the way he intended Adam and Eve to build the world.
In the past I saw this Wilderness setting more in its cultic, ritualistic terms, about sacrifice and priestly services. This was the Old Covenant language and religious event that showed Israel the kind of life God intended them to lead after the Exodus. Being delivered from Pharaoh, the centralised power, Israel were to build a society of local rehabilitation, without a king dominating commercial interests from the centre. Instead they had God’s tabernacle at their centre, which meant they were to follow the government of sabbath care and jubilee, supporting each one’s local community, rather than building an economy of extraction and dominance. In the context of the Exodus from slavery, it makes a lot of sense to see Israel’s 12 tribes encamped around God’s jubilee as this new form of economic life, with a vision of localised restoration and mutual support across the whole region, rather than centralised control.
In Ezekiel’s vision of community restored from Babylon, Gog and Magog become a threat to the new peaceful flourishing. In ancient times these were northern tribes of the Caucasus who operated as mercenaries for the dominant power. Their primary motive was their own economic gain. In Ezekiel’s vision, Gog and Magog come against the new restored Messianic community, which we now know as the real return from Babylon, the church beginning to live in new creation. In Ezekiel’s apocalyptic imagery, Gog and Magog likely refers to the marriage between Jeruslem and Rome, in which the peaceful early church was massacred, to secure for the leaders the riches of the temple trade. The book of Revelation plays this out in a clear Hebrew-gospel narrative, with the Exodus theme, in which the economic powers (the two beasts: Jerusalem riding on the back of Nero) crush Jesus and his followers to take possession of the kingdom and its wealth. (See Kent’s book at www.apeopleofpeace.org Reflections in Revelation.)
Current conspiracy models can fit into this category quite well. Centralised government or commercial powers controlling people’s behaviour read well into the early church’s struggle as the imagery of Revelation depicts it. Conspiracy theories aren’t always as foolish as they may appear. Our ancestors paid a lot for our freedoms and given the truth that “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” vigilance is required. One problem with conspiracy models is they often look like those in Jesus’ time: geopolitical, calling for political, economic, and militaristic measures against enemies, often given over to scapegoating, propaganda, ethnic nationalism, and our own desire for economic dominance. Maybe the worst facet of conspiracy theories is that they call us to an escapism, the rapture to heaven seen as the imminent remedy. This is not the biblical Exodus. New local community is, heaven joined with renewed living on earth, as the book of Acts began to display.
If this Acts community came into the world to bring a renewed, sharing economy, Gog and Magog themes may loosely describe any centralised power that would overthrow local-life sustainability for its selfish goals of profitability. This could occur through national imperialism, which we have all been used to in the past, or today in corporate monopolies that exercise global control. The tentacles of “Babylon” (global domination) once again pervade local community, extracting wealth and destroying local vitality. Our goal today is an Exodus, a return from exile in Babylon, to become encamped as local groups of harmony and care around the love of God. The re-established economic principle then becomes not one of extraction, but restoration, called sabbath and jubilee in the books of Exodus and Leviticus. Local regions are no longer seen as centres for resource extraction, but as communities to be restored. This Exodus is a completely renewed way of seeing the world.
Restoration, Not Extraction
So, in practical economics terms, what we are looking for is not a global system where industry and agriculture are shifted to high profit regions and the resilience of local communities break down. As large corporations subjugate local regions to make more profits, these profits are funnelled into private tax havens. We like globalism, but seek a globalism of support, in which profit is not our drive, but rather helping each local community build a resilient agricultural and manufacturing base, in which food, resources, product, employment and income are circulated within the local region. There is still trade with global regions, but with no threat to the sustainability of any local region. Local people own and control production and marketing, rather than huge “middle agents” taking ownership of local rights. This will allow the rehabilitation of local natural environment because resources are locally available rather than robbed and extracted. We are to build an economics of support rather than domination. We are to stand in the way of an economics of theft, of stealing what God intends for each locale. People in every local settlement then become his sacred place.
Through history people have responded to globalism, or any form of centralism and the encroachment of others into their local welfare, in different ways. The Judean Zealots built fortresses on the rocks to ready for their Armageddon with the Roman or Herodian forces. Cults of the deep south of the USA arm themselves to the teeth. The Amish retain their community values in separating from an extractionist economy. Popularist governments are rising today. There appears to be a form of fascism on both sides, the elite and the popularists. Dismissing all these concerns as conspiracy theories won’t help but will make negative and harmful responses even more inevitable. Issues to do with economics, governance and rebuilding enfranchised local community must be faced and handled appropriately. Jesus taught in this very climate, saying that building tables of care for the poor, sick, foreigner and unclean was the way to save that generation. All the prophets taught the same.
We are used to an “economics of scale,” in which better and more goods can be delivered to those who have the money to purchase them. We are told the numbers of those people are increasing, as economic growth continues to expand, extracting more resources from other local regions. Maximum economies of scale require low wages, and these are available because local community has been decimated by former impoverishing, imperial conditions. Or robotics can be used, so people need not be employed. But all this is centralising industry, technology, and capital into fewer hands.
There needs to be sharing between communities based on equity, so that fair prices are paid for local resources, whether raw materials, farming product, or labour, and no advantage is taken by market opportunities. Fair price paying across all sectors in a must for developing local sustainability in community, which gives us global resilience, rather than building our relationships and lives upon short term profits. Local community then has the economic power to build locally owned services and sustainable industry into its own fabric. This is where the government comes in, in enforcing fair price paying, refusing to be bought off by corporate powers. And if built-in obsolescence were forbidden, wealth would increase far more equitably. Fair price paying doesn’t slow the economy, it enables every person, which increases the wealth of the economy. The main thing is it is a global economy that has foundation, strong spread-out resilience. And lowering wages isn’t the right path to full employment, but a stable, speculation-free economy is.
And in a time of crisis, like this Covid crisis, it is right to be concerned about even more negative shifts in the balance of power. If we imagined a world in which we can’t print artificial money, we would then have to rely on the economy still working to support the welfare of millions of people as part of our response to the pandemic. But in a world where we can print trillions of dollars at the push of the return button on a computer, these trillions would most likely increase the wealth and control of a few over many. And who is going to pay this money back? Pension funds, higher taxes for the lower incomes? Like the 2008 bank bailout, which was socialism for the rich and capitalism (austerity) for the others, including developing nations. Not to mention the downward pressure this lockdown of the poor from their jobs brings to wages. Where we live, we see how crises can benefit some and are therefore perpetuated. Gog and Magog in their element.
Israel’s regional autonomy after the Exodus was a bit like the early Christian based federations of Australia and America and some European nations. They decried central control, maintaining sovereignty in their local communities, but with support between those autonomous, related regions. God warned Israel, that if they made a human king over them, like the nations around them, they would lose their local rule of God’s love. He warned Israel introducing this central power would give rise to an elite, that would forbid the jubilee reign of God among them because of greed.
But Israel gave a king this central power, to manage their crises with the surrounding nations. The aristocracy of Israel extracted all the wealth from and destroyed the local power and opportunities in the rural communities. It is in times of crisis that we give up our local autonomy and democratic values. It is often through fear, propaganda about some rising enemy. Slowly the nation and the economy become a plutocracy, the rule of the centralised rich. In Africa we call the correct path ubuntu, the rule of peace that sustains local justice. Ezekiel (40-48) brings us back to this vision of God’s renewed nation, with his people encamped around his new temple, his presence, where he is king, and jubilee and local flourishing take over, delivering the world from the “captivity of Babylon.”
In the West, chemical farming has shifted agriculture to a monoculture, where animal raising, and cropping have been separated. In creation animals and soils restore each other. Our intense factory farms for animals are cruel and they put society at severe risk of disease outbreak, just as much or more than some wet markets in China. Bird flu and swine flu spread in our animal factories. We pump the animals with antibiotics, increasing the risk of highly resistant diseases. Our current society is a case study for what happens when we move away from biblical patterns of Exodus: to centralised oligarchy, to a denial of jubilee for the poor and to a denial of sabbath practices in environmental restoration.
Living in the middle of intra-community violence and terrorism, we have seen some contributing factors giving rise to the catastrophe. Years of hurt and bitterness means we need to repair community by care for any person “on the road to Jericho,” no matter their race or religion. We need to give hope to youth and rebuild their relationships across the community. We need to also focus on the way centralised forces suck wealth from local community, destroying everything. Agriculture has been destroyed, animal life and forest habitat, mostly by global farming chemicals and patented seed. Only patented pharmaceuticals are approved and highly priced, even though these were developed by public funds. Local medicines are not developed, approved, and circulated for the poor. Repairing local community, which would repair child nutrition, is the biggest health need. Resources, brainpower, labour, and profits have been wickedly exploited, at very unfair prices to the local region, without extractors paying taxes to restore educational and health sectors. Regions have been raped, not only by national and continental forces, but more completely by global ones. There is now nothing left, except for divided communities blaming each other and spreading violence. (See this article from Global Justice, UK for some background.)
You don’t have to look far to imagine an “antichrist” conspiracy here, but it is simply people of power joining in greed. Local economy must be rebuilt. Local soils and natural ecosystems must be rebuilt. Monopolies that stand in the way of this must be thoroughly deconstructed by governments. The redistribution of wealth back to the poor isn’t the main role of government. That makes government too big and central also and it becomes a nanny state, interfering in local decision making and becoming corrupted. What we need is government to regulate, to stop the original redistribution of wealth from the poor and local community to the rich. Wealth is evenly spread, not by redistribution, but by preventing robbery.
Monopoly philanthropy doesn’t cut it. It just increases their market power, interferes with public policy, education, free-speech, local manufacturing capacity, local marketing, and democracy. Presently, these “visionaries” now want to move us all into a centralised hi-tech future, that could have serious consequences for human rights and local democracy. Some large tech companies are getting public money during this Covid pandemic to develop a highly profitable future for themselves, through a new normal of a socially isolated digital world. We are not speaking about breaking down our federations and unions, which I think are a good thing, in allowing cooperation and building peace. But their centralist character needs to be reformed so they can’t be taken over by the interests of the elite. Building local economic control is required. Local relationships will then be repaired. And this gives us peace globally. “The fruit of justice shall be peace.” (Isaiah)