Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery;
it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair;
it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands.
— Brennan Manning (The Ragamuffin Gospel)
The end of Ezekiel 21—the last of the four sword oracles—contains a change in plot that would make any Hollywood mogul proud. If you have read through the previous 20 chapters of Ezekiel, you have an idea where the plot is going. We expect the king of Babylon to utterly destroy Jerusalem. God’s plan was different: not this time.
. . .
Do you remember the previous sword oracle, where the king of Babylon came to a fork in the road and used divination to determine which road to take: Ammon or Jerusalem? He chose Jerusalem, to the utter relief of the Ammonites!
Now that the Ammonites were spared from the sword of Babylon, they turn and taunt Jerusalem whom the king of Babylon has chosen to attack. They taunt with a sword song:
A sword, a sword!
Drawn for slaughter,
polished to consume,
to flash like lightning.
(v. 29, NRSV)
This is quite a turn of fortunes for Ammon. A few short verses ago, they were cowering and hoping that the king of Babylon would not attack them. Now they’re cheering Babylon on as it marches toward Jerusalem.
. . .
We don’t know what changed God’s mind. It could have been a number of things: the wickedness of the king of Babylon; the schaudenfreude of the Ammonites; God’s love for Jerusalem. All we know is that God commanded the army of Babylon to return home to be judged themselves.
We don’t even know how God did it! Listen to Ezekiel’s prophetic command:
Return it to its sheath!
In the place were you were created,
in the land of your origin,
I will judge you (v. 30, NRSV).
Babylon—God’s chosen sword to judge his own people—was turned back to her homeland to be judged.
This conclusion of the fourth sword oracle recalls the imagery of the first: God as fire. In the first oracle, Ezekiel told us that God was a fire that would sweep through the land and burn both the green and dry wood. Here God promises to blow the fire of his wrath on Babylon.
. . .
It’s not always easy to draw out application from Scripture. This is especially true in prophetic, anger-laced passages like this. Still, there’s something here for us to live with: God is unpredictable.
The facts are simple: we are finite, and God is not. We cannot possible cram the fullness of his plans into our 14oz of gray-matter. Just when we think we understand what God is going to do next, he surprises us.
Look at Moses: forty years of training in Egypt followed by a murder, and forty years of wandering in the wilderness, followed by forty years of leading Israel through the desert. Could he have predicted that? Or what about Paul. He was trained as a strict Pharisee, persecuting Christians wherever he went, only to get knocked off his horse by God and end up leading the movement he was persecuting.
It’s a cliché, but a very true one: God works in mysterious ways.
. . .
Awesome God, give us the peace and courage to follow every step you place in front of us. Your thoughts are far above our understanding—all we can do is trust. In Jesus’ name, Amen.