The great tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer
but unoffered prayer.
— F. B. Meyer
Ezekiel was shell-shocked. He had already suffered the violence of deportation. He had already heard God describe the form his judgment would take: now he sees it. The God whom he dedicated his life to serving was now slaughtering his own.
Perhaps it was Ezekiel’s glimpse of God’s glory lifting off of the ark in the holy of holies. Perhaps it was the fact that the dead bodies (unclean according to the law) were piling up in the holy place. Perhaps it was sheer shock at the graphic violence in front of his eyes. Whatever the cause, Ezekiel was overwhelmed enough to speak up and question the ineffable Himself.
. . .
Confronting God was new to Ezekiel. Unlike many other prophets, Ezekiel usually just did what he was told—here, he questions. In this brief passage, we see the heart of all intercessors—people so moved by the suffering of others they are compelled to pray.
This type of questioning is not new in scripture. In Genesis, God told Abraham about the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah. Listen to Abraham as he pleads with God for the people:
Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:23-25, NRSV)
Abraham succeeded in bargaining God down to ten people. For just ten righteous people, God would not destroy Sodom.
. . .
Both intercessory cases end the same way. In Abraham’s case, God could not find ten righteous people. In Ezekiel’s case, God’s judgment was irrevocable. The righteous (those who moan and groan over the spiritual state of the city) would not be destroyed, but the rest had lived their last day.
How does this inform our own times of intercession? Godly people throughout scripture and history have pleaded with God for the lives of others. This is a legitimate way to express love for our neighbours. We have to realize, however, that God has the final say. In some cases, God is persuaded to change what he had planned. In other cases, he holds the course. In all cases, we bless God.
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:20-21, NRSV).
. . .
Sovereign Lord, give us a heart of love for the dying people around us. Move us to intercede for them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.