"When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, he who enters by the north gate to worship shall go out by the south gate, and he who enters by the south gate shall go out by the north gate: no one shall return by way of the gate by which he entered, but each shall go out straight ahead. When they enter, the prince shall enter with them, and when they go out, he shall go out." -Ezekiel 46:9-10
Often I find that when I’m reading my bible plan for the day I can end up in portions of the old testament that I read quickly to get on to the ‘good stuff’ in the new testament and the psalms. Honestly, I almost feel shameful writing that. But I assume that I’m not alone in doing so.
Usually, these are the texts like the one I found myself in this morning in Ezekiel. The majority of the text was God telling His people how to act and what to sacrifice during a festival He told them to have. Which in itself is something that I love, a God who tells His people that they should party as an act of worship.
But here in the middle of these instructions is something that seems out of place. God tells His people that they are not allowed to leave this celebration through the same gate they entered through. It would seem to make more sense if He had commanded that everyone enter one gate and leave through another, but that’s not what He does. He simply tells the people that they are not to leave the way they came. And He tells them that the prince shall enter with them, and when they leave he shall be with them.
In reading this I must confess I found myself doing what I have already admitted to doing too often...reading quickly to get on to the rest of my daily reading. But in these verses, I couldn’t help but think that such a command means something. For not matter how odd it may sound all scripture is still good and profitable for us (2 Tim. 3:16).
So what does it matter if these people walk in one gate and out the same?
If they were only coming in to do business or grab a pint with an old friend I don’t think it would matter what gate they used. But this was not instruction on daily ritual. This command was connected to what they would do after they had, as a people met with God.
We live in a culture that so often we go about our days and weeks and think little about meeting with God. Even on Sundays many of us will go to a building for a service and leave the same way we entered. Or we will sit down to read and pray during the day and get up no different than we sat down.
And I think this was what God was trying to convey to His people then, and to us as we read this now. We need to remember that when we come to meet with God, we cannot leave the same way we entered. To encounter God is to be changed by Him. If we’re not changed then we haven’t met with Him.
And yet through this, we are also reminded that the prince shall be with the people. When we enter to meet with God and when we leave after doing so we are accompanied by our prince of peace (Is. 9:6). Jesus our perfect prince has promised that He will be with us, always (Matt. 28:20).
So often I find that in my Christian rituals (weekly services, daily reading, personal prayer, etc) I end up leaving the same way I entered. I come to the place where God has said He would meet me and I treat it as I would when I meet up with a friend for a coffee or beer. And the more I do this the less I come to God expecting to change. I come to this place where the One who created all things and holds them together (Gen. 1, Col. 1:15-23) calls me to come to Him boldly (Heb. 4:16) and ask Him for things that He has promised me (James 4:2-3), namely Himself (Luke 11:13), and I treat it the way I treat watering my many houseplants. It’s just something that I have to cross off my to-do list for the day or week.
So the next time we come to the places where we are planning to meet with God (daily devotions, personal prayer, personal worship, church gatherings, etc) let us remember not to leave through the same gate we entered by.
We may not have a heightened spiritual encounter each time. But I believe that even those times that seem like crossing off something on a list will lead to our transformation when we treat them that way. For in doing this we will begin to behold God and be transformed by Him to become more like Him (2 Cor. 3:18).