The beloved melody again reappears,
but it has lost its modesty and nobility;
it is no more than a vulgar dance tune,
trivial and grotesque.
— Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique
The day had finally come. After 23 chapters of prophecy, Jerusalem had finally fallen like God said it would. God made it very clear to Ezekiel that he was to mark the date down. This was a turning point in the history of the Jewish people.
We use an expression, “adding insult to injury”. That is what God proceeded to do. In callous fashion, he began by singing what was likely a popular feasting song of that day:
Set on the pot, set it on,
pour in water also;
put in it the pieces,
all the good pieces, the thigh and the shoulder;
fill it with choice bones.
Take the choicest one of the flock,
pile the logs under it;
boil its pieces,
see the also its bones in it.
(vv. 3-5, NRSV)
Anyone who heard that song would get excited! It spoke of feasting and celebration. Next comes the twist.
In 1830, a romantic composer named Hector Berlioz created his Symphonie Fantastique. This symphony has five movements, and is interesting in that it uses an idée fixe—a musical theme that recurs in more than one movement. In the first movement, a man meets a young woman who quickly becomes the desire of his heart. The idée fixe is the love theme that permeates the first movement. Skip ahead to the fourth movement. The lover is convinced that his love is unrequited. He takes an overdose of opium, where he sees visions of his own execution. The fifth movement is the most dramatic. The man witnesses a witches sabbath when the love theme returns—only this time it is twisted. Instead of being a pure melodic idea, the line is sabotaged by grace notes that twist the sound into something frightening.
This is exactly what Yahweh does here. He takes a classic pure song of celebration and twists its meaning, turning it into something horrifying. Insult to injury.
. . .
Instead of a feast, the victims of Israel’s bloodshed are in the pot. The bones are human! The pot is so violated, the only possible way to purify it is to stoke the fire until it glows with heat. Only after Yahweh has satisfied his wrath on the pot will it be clean.
One important part of this passage is unclear in the NRSV. The last phrase in v. 6 is “making no choice at all”. A more literal translation would be “no lot has fallen on it” (Block, Ezekiel, I.767). Casting lots was a typical way of discerning God’s will in the Old Testament. This phrase was horribly offensive! The Jewish people understood themselves to be God’s chosen people—which they were. Yet here Yahweh tells them blatantly that they are not his choice. Messages of redemption and healing have no place here: they come after the judgment.
There is one more peculiar phrase in this example that deserves explanation:
For the blood she shed is inside it;
she placed it on a bare rock;
she did not pour it out on the ground,
to cover it with earth.
(v. 7, NRSV)
In the Old Testament, the blood from sacrifices was supposed to be drained into the soil and covered with earth. Exposed blood was taboo. If you look back to the story of Cain and Abel, God told Cain: “Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:11, NRSV).
The Jewish people were not only guilty of bloodshed, they flaunted their crimes. They didn’t even try to cover their tracks. They had ceased believing in Yahweh—or at least in his powerful justice.
. . .
It is always sobering to read accounts like this. Israel was God’s chosen people, yet he told them that they were not chosen in order to judge them for their flagrant crimes.
As Christians, our security is in Christ. We have no need to fear ever falling out of favour with God. Still, when we purposefully turn from Christ and engage in attitudes and behaviours that he hates; we are walking away from the source of our salvation. We effectively behave like the Jewish people of Ezekiel’s day.
God does what we can never do: he holds justice and mercy in unity. While his mercy is always there for us, we can never use that grace in advance as an excuse to cover our unbelief-laden crimes. In the words of Paul, “never let it be”.
. . .
All-powerful God, continually draw our thoughts back to you. Jesus, remind us of your sacrifice and inspire us to live our lives in gratitude for your gift. In Jesus’ name, Amen.