Ezekiel 1:1-3: Priest to Prophet

The psychologist generally regards it as a sure sign that a man is beginning to give up a passion
when he wishes to treat the object of it objectively.
—Soren Kierkegaard (Concluding Unscientific Postscript)

I was reading philosophy in the bathtub a couple nights ago (tubs are a wonderful place to think) when I came across this gem from Kierkegaard. Already having Ezekiel on the brain, I immediately made the connection to scripture. I’ve seen this pattern in Christan life:

  1. We fall in love with God, amazed that the Creator of everything cares enough about us to give us his Word.
  2. We want to know more and more about God, so we begin to analyze scripture even more closely to wring out every possible drop of meaning from the text.
  3. We begin to argue about the meanings of difficult passages.
  4. Our interpretation of scripture solidifies as we defend it against other views.
  5. We end up forcing our interpretation of scripture back onto the Bible, only seeing what we want to see.

Through this tragic process, we begin to treat the Creator objectively. It’s almost as if God were lying on some celestial operating table waiting for us to dissect him. Obviously, nothing could be farther from the truth.

We need the humility to let scripture form us—not the other way around. As we look at Ezekiel, pray and ask the Spirit to guide you.

. . .

In the first 3 verses of Ezekiel, we learn where the story is set. When you work out the date on a modern calendar, the year is around 586 BC, and Ezekiel is about to make a transition from priest to prophet.

Ezekiel is a refugee. His land and people have been destroyed by the Babylonians, and a number of Israelites had already been transported to a refugee camp in another country. Everything Ezekiel knew was gone. The most troubling aspect of this national disaster was the destruction of the temple. Read the second half of Exodus and you will see that God planned on meeting his people in a specific place. There are intricate details that explained precisely how the Israelites were supposed to worship, and those details were all tied to the temple.

Can we even imagine how disorienting this was for Ezekiel? He had spent his entire life serving the God that promised the land of Canaan to his people. Was his whole life worthless? Was it possible to communicate with the Holy One of Israel apart from the temple? Was there any point in even trying? Was the God of Israel nothing less than another national God who lost a war with Enurta—the Babylonian god of war?

. . .

Enter hope: “the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (v. 1, NRSV). Ezekiel would have watched his people being slaughtered—men, women and children. He would have watched the temple of the most high God in Jerusalem being destroyed. He was imprisoned (instead of murdered), dragged into another country and forced to live in a refugee camp. In the midst of all this, God made contact with him. Ezekiel’s whole life was spent entering the temple and initiating contact with God on behalf of the people. Now God was taking the initiative.

Ezekiel reminds me of those of us who grew up in a Christian sub-culture. Things were familiar—we knew exactly what God was like. Moreover we knew what God did and didn’t like. Things were simple.

Next some type of world-altering experience shakes us. We become disoriented. Things that once were familiar now seem distant and strangely artificial. Then God makes contact. We begin to realize that he is the Creator of the entire world—not just Christendom.

. . .

Holy One of Israel, contact us again. Help us to see who you really are—not just who we want you to be. Encounter our lives wherever we happen to be and help us to see you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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