Better to sleep in a house full
of adders and venomous beasts
than sleep in one sinne.
— William Fenner
Ezekiel is not the kind of book that reads like a novel. (You have probably guessed that by now!) Instead, it’s a collection of prophecies that God gave Ezekiel to deliver. Many of these prophecies are self-contained; meaning, they have their own internal structure and form. Chapter 22 is a good example of his.
Chapter 22 is God’s legal response to Jerusalem. The chapter is full of language and customs borrowed from the courtroom.
- In the first 16 verses, God indicts Jerusalem.
- In verses 17-22, God delivers his judgment on Jerusalem.
- In verses 23-31, God explains why he judged Israel—evoking many of the themes from the first 16 verses.
Let’s look at the first 16 verses now.
. . .
One of the biggest paradoxes in Christianity is the tension between moralism and morality. Moralism is the human-centred attempt to make God happy with you by living the way he wants you to. Morality is how we live in response to God’s grace (moralism=bad; morality=good). In life, however, these definitions constantly intermingle.
The maxim is true: we are saved by grace. Yet that grace should stir in us a loyalty and love for the person who offered it to us. God is faithful to us, we need to respond in faith to Him.
. . .
In many passages of Scripture, God clearly lists how he expects us to live. In the New Testament, we have the sin-lists of Paul. In the Old Testament, the prophets remind us. In God’s indictment of Jerusalem, there are 10 behavioural issues that God is concerned about:
- The leaders are guilty of shedding blood. While this most commonly refers to murder, it can also be a critique of improper worship (animal sacrifices that deal with blood). Whenever I read about murder and its punishment, I can’t help but remember Jesus words on the topic: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; . . . But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22, NRSV).
- The people dishonour their parents. Honouring your parents is one of the ten commandments, and is therefore central in the moral consciousness of the Jewish people.
- Immigrants, orphans, and widows are extorted. God’s love for the underprivileged is a common thread that ties both testaments together.
- They broke the Sabbath. This is another of the ten commandments that Jerusalem was ignoring. Sabbath rest was meant to be a blessing and marker of God’s covenant people—and they were ignoring it to be like the surrounding nations.
- People slander others. This can be tied to the commandment against lying, but is more fully expressed throughout the Bible in the exhortations to avoid gossip.
- They participate in pagan ritual meals. This is what was meant by “those in you who eat upon the mountains” (v. 9, NRSV). Idolatry (spiritual adultery) is a perennial temptation.
- They indulged in a variety of sexual sins. You can read the list of particulars for yourself. The bottom line is that they ignored God’s guidelines for community life to indulge their own passions.
- They accept bribes for murder. Judges are commanded in Exodus 23:8 never to take a bribe. Bribery perverts justice.
- They extort their neighbours by charging too much interest. God made it clear in the Torah that the Israelite community was to be generous to each other.
- “You have forgotten me, says the Lord GOD” (v. 12, NRSV). Ouch.
. . .
While trying to avoid lapsing into moralism, I believe that God still cares about the same sorts of things now that he did then. This might be a good time to read through that list and think about how those same actions permeate our society, and even our lives.
. . .
Omniscient God, search my heart. Help me to live a godly life, in response to your costly gift. In Jesus’ name, Amen.