It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. — Henry David Thoreau (Walden)
Jerusalem’s civic leaders were doing desperate things. They had usurped the authority of the priesthood and set up stalls of worship to a multitude of false gods. The city officials knew that they were in danger. Citizens had already been deported, and they would have assumed that a full-scale attack on their city was only a matter of time.
The priests obviously were not doing their job. Yahweh was not protecting the city. The city officials decided to take control of the situation, and set up cubicles of worship to every conceivable god. Maybe Yahweh had been beaten by one of these other gods. Let’s cover all of our bases.
. . .
Ezekiel does not hesitate to call the idols what they truly are. He uses language that is blunt and offensive. If the Hebrew he used was understood and used in our churches, we would probably pull the speaker away from the podium with the crook of a shepherd’s staff. The “loathsome” animals (v. 10, NRSV) were literally pellets of excrement. We have an colloquialism to express that measure of contempt in the English language—use your imagination.
Anything that is worshiped in the place or alongside Yahweh is worth nothing more than the stuff we flush down the porcelain throne daily.
. . .
There is a double irony in these verses. The first concerns Jaazaniah. We do not know who he is, but Ezekiel obviously recognized him. His name means literally, “Yahweh hears.” Yet there he is, worshiping pellets of excrement saying, “the LORD does not see us” (v. 12, NRSV). He did not realize that the idols are the ones who cannot see or hear:
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
they make no sound in their throats.
Psalm 115:4-7 (NRSV)
The second irony is even more tragic. The city officials were trying to cover all their bases. They were worshiping every god they could think of, in the desperate hope that one of them would hear them. Unbeknown to them, their worship of those other gods was the very reason why Yahweh was bringing judgment on them. Yahweh had not forgotten them; they mistook judgment for silence and further infuriated the already jealous lover.
. . .
This tragedy teaches us an important truth: God does see and hear us. The Israelites knew this, but had forgotten as the generations passed. The city officials were burning incense to the false gods they served, when that incense was supposed to be a symbol that Yahweh hears their prayers!
I call upon you, O LORD; come quickly to me
give ear to my voice when I call to you.
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.
Psalm 141:1-2 (NRSV)
. . .
Thank you, Lord, for hearing us when we pray. You are always with us, and always ready to listen. Help us also to listen when you speak with us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.