A Melancholy Anniversary

Published September 14, 2021

By Douglas Bookman, ThD

September 18, 2021 – a melancholy anniversary indeed! Though the day doubtless generates little remembrance here on earth, there may very well be a moment of solemn silence throughout the Courts of Heaven. The reason for that silence is the staggeringly sorrowful memory of one of the most melancholy events in the history of God’s dealings with mankind, an event which, on September 18, 2021, occurred some 2612 years earlier.

The date of the historical incident is defined in Ezekiel’s introduction to the extended visionary experience that he records in chapters 8 to 11 of his prophecy: “And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there.” (8:1)

Given the vagaries of the ancient Hebrew (lunar) calendar, it is impossible to be precise as to the very day. But by our calendar the date of Ezekiel 8:1 is very close to September 18, 592 B.C.

The event which I can imagine might excite such unhappy and sober memories among the angelic host is described in a drama composed of a series of scenes witnessed by Ezekiel in those four chapters. Central to those scenes is the Glory-Cloud, that majestic physical manifestation of King Yahweh’s regal presence which had dwelt (not without some interruption) in the Temple/Throneroom ever since the inauguration of the Theocracy in 1446 BC (Ex 40:34-38). The climax of the drama described in those chapters is simply this: Ichabod!

THE GLORY HAS DEPARTED is first presented in 1 Samuel 4:21 regarding the ark’s capture by the Philistines. And in Ezekiel’s day, the reality was again presented to describe when King Yahweh, in the person of that Glory-Cloud and accompanied by a host of cherubim, rose from His throne in the Holy of Holies for the final time (9:3). As He departed, He tarried for a short time above the “east gate” of the temple (10:18-19) and then above “the mountain which is on the east side of the city” (11:22 i.e., the Mt. of Olives). And then – oh, the terror of the scene – King Yahweh abandoned the Holy City here on earth and departed for the Heavenly Throneroom. Why? Because, as is recounted in those chapters in Ezekiel’s vision, He had been defied and rejected by the people with whom He had made covenant.

In light of this event, I have two brief thoughts.

First, I know that this melancholy event will be little noted or remarked upon here on earth. The primary reason is that the very idea of a real Theocracy – a relationship in which, to use the words of an Old Testament theologian of the 19th century, “Jehovah condescended to reign over Israel in the same direct manner in which an earthly king reigns over his people” – is almost entirely foreign to most Bible students today. The Scriptures could not be more explicit, and yet the concept has been largely lost: in part because so many frame an understanding of what is going on in the Old Testament without ever reading the Old Testament. That is a bottomless misfortune.

Without understanding the reality that there was already a period (indeed, a period of over 850 years) when Yahweh ruled as a real, actual, physically present Sovereign King over a nation of people, there is no making sense of what God is doing in the Old Testament and little hope of making sense of what He intends to do in days to come. With all that, I would like to offer a defense and definition of the glorious reality that the question put to Jesus by His disciples as He ascended to the Father, “Will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6), is at once legitimate and coherent only because there has already been a time when Yahweh ruled as King in Israel (1 Sam 12:12).

Second, the final scene of the drama of King Yahweh’s departure is described by the prophet as follows: “And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain which is on the east side of the city.” (11:23).

As noted earlier, that mountain is the Mt. of Olives. It is abundantly meaningful that the Scriptures record a later time when the duly authorized King of Israel, this time her Messiah, late on Tuesday of the week of His passion, left the city of Jerusalem for the last time under His own power at His ascension. On that day, He stood on that same mountain and in tears pronounced Ichabod once again over the city which had rejected Him just as it had rejected the reign of Yahweh earlier in her history (Mt 23:37-39).

But even more importantly, Yahweh is a God who keeps covenant, and in His unfathomable mercy He has promised to bring that rebellious people to Himself. Thus there will come a day when King Jesus will descend to rescue His people, when He will stand again on that same Mount, when the Spirit of grace and supplication will be poured out and that stiff-necked people will look with faith upon the One whom once they pierced. Then, indeed, the God who is jealous for His holy name “will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel” (Ezek 39:25; cf. Ezek 20:40; Rom 11:26), and thus the covenant-keeping name of King Yahweh will be celebrated throughout the spheres.

September 18, 2021 is the 2612th anniversary of the day when the Glory-cloud departed because of the continued covenant faithlessness of the people whom God had called His own. But don’t let it be just a remembrance of man’s covenant faithlessness. Yahweh, bless His name, did not abandon His rule over His covenant people, He only suspended that physical rule. You have biblical warrant to rejoice in that day as a reminder of the covenant faithfulness of the God who, though once and again rejected, will never fail to be Yahweh and who will never abandon His Word.

Dr. Doug Bookman is Professor of Old/New Testament and Bible Exposition at Shepherds Theological Seminary. Throughout the years, he has taught at various colleges and seminaries, and has served as pastor and interim pastor at local churches. Much of his ministry in the last decade has focused on both Israel and the life of Christ. He enjoys leading numerous study trips to Israel, which includes an annual trip specifically designed for the STS students.