“I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing.” Ezekiel 34.25-26.
Yesterday in our church we had the funeral of one of our much-loved members. He was born in Jamaica but had lived in Britain for many years. I knew him as Hubert Bell but when I picked up the service sheet I found that his full name was Hubert Ezekiel Bell. Ezekiel! The name means “God is strong” but what prompted his parents to choose that name for him, I wondered? I had my answer this morning, I think, when I let my Bible give me a “random” passage to meditate upon, and it turned out to be the verses the book of the prophet Ezekiel that I’ve set out above.
Ezekiel brings to God’s people God’s promise of a covenant of peace under which, season by season, there will be showers of blessing. Who would not want their child to be heir to such a promise?
The covenant of peace is, of course, the “new covenant” spoken of by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31.31-34) and initiated by Jesus—the Prince of Peace—as he sat at table with his friends and gave them the cup of wine on the night before he went to the Cross. “This is my blood of the new covenant …” The word “peace” in Hebrew (shalom) does, of course, signify much more than the mere absence of strife. The root meaning is completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfilment. It is that state where all is well in every area of one’s life and in all of one’s relationships. And that is certainly a state which everyone who becomes a Christian and joins the covenant of peace finds themselves beginning to be drawn into as their life in Christ goes on. The state of peace may not yet be complete—the covenant has been initiated but is not yet fulfilled, and we live in the age when everything is both “now” and also “not yet”—but it is “now” enough for us to know its reality and truth.
And it is a “now” too when we can know and should expect the “showers of blessings” that Ezekiel talked about. They are showers that come, not constantly but, like their rainy counterpart, “in their season.” And it is as well to remember that, in Israel, seasonal rain showers brought forth flowers and fruit from the dry land. Therein lies the blessing: that when the showers of God’s grace fall into our lives, we blossom afresh and once again become fertile and productive. Showers of blessing! As soon as I hear that expression, I think of Daniel Webster Whittle’s old hymn …
There shall be showers of blessing
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Savior above.
Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need;
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.
We do indeed. But in concentrating on the “showers of blessing” it is easy to overlook the other promise of blessing that precedes it. The promise is that “the wilderness” and “the woods” will become places of blessing too. The wilderness and the woods were places of great danger to the folk of Ezekiel’s day. They weren’t places where you took the dog for a walk on a Saturday afternoon. They were the haunt of lions, wolves, leopards (Jeremiah 5.6) so the promise that, under the covenant of peace, God’s people would be able to pitch their tent in the wilderness and be completely safe or even go to sleep in the woods and be unharmed was a startling one. And perhaps it should startle us too and make us think. We fear so many “wild beasts” and try so hard to steer clear of “woods” and “wildernesses” where such beasts may lurk. We spend so much of our time and resources in trying to barricade ourselves in and make ourselves so secure that nothing can harm us in this uncertain world. But the promise of God seems to be that, under his covenant of peace to which you and I belong, we can put aside our fears and take down the barricades. We can live what might be described as ‘dangerously’ because even the dangerous places—especially the dangerous places—will now be to us places of blessing—if we allow them to be so.
Hubert lived his life under the covenant of peace and enjoyed showers of blessing; and may you and I do the same. But may we enjoy the blessing of the woods and the wildernesses too.