Ezekiel 24:15-27: Don’t Mourn

In the heavenly Jerusalem of Revelation
nothing is more finally significant
than the church’s complete absence:
“And I saw no temple therein”.
— Karl Barth

Have you ever felt God telling you to do something that seemed completely bizarre? Have you heard something so unorthodox, it made you question where that notion actually came from? Have you ever acquiesced? What if God told you something that was so sickening, it would make you question whether or not he is the type of God worth serving? Now we’re in Ezekiel’s territory.

Let me rephrase the story in brief. God told Ezekiel that he was going to take away the desire of his heart, and that he was not allowed to show any signs of mourning. That night his wife died. Through that event, Ezekiel was able to address the exiles and tell them that just like his wife was taken away from him, God’s temple was being taken away from the people—and they were not allowed to mourn the loss.

. . .

This is a sickening story. I’ll be honest: it’s beyond my comprehension to think of a God who would kill his servant’s wife to make a point.

Think of some other similar Old Testament stories. God asked Abraham to slaughter his unique son Isaac—but provided a ram to take his place. The anguish leading up to the event would be horrid (not to mention the father-son dynamic after the event), but Abraham got to keep his son.

Hosea is another person who comes to mind. He was told to marry a prostitute. When she ran back to her trade, Hosea ran after her and purchased her again. It’s horrible, but at least she didn’t die! The point was made: no matter how far Israel runs from God after other lovers, he will redeem her.

The bottom line here is that God wanted Ezekiel to be a living example of a spiritual reality. The point is profound and painful: God’s temple is as precious to him and to the Israelites as Ezekiel’s wife was to Ezekiel. Still, God was willing to destroy his own temple to eventually redeem his people.

. . .

No one is sure why Ezekiel was not allowed to mourn the passing of his wife. Scripture is conspicuously silent on this point. There have been an number of suggestions offered, but ultimately we do not know.

Mourning was a big show in Ezekiel’s day.  People would typically:

  • Wear sackcloth
  • Sprinkle ashes or dust on their heads
  • Shave their beard or hair
  • Lie on the ground
  • Walk around barefoot

These actions would alert everyone that the mourner had lost someone important. Ezekiel was not allowed to indulge in any of this. He bottled up his grief.

. . .

I think the point of this story can be found in the four phrases Ezekiel used to describe God’s Temple:

  1. My sanctuary: God was not gleefully dancing while his people were being judged; the sanctuary was his idea, and its destruction was his pain.
  2. The pride of your people’s strength: When people of this era would go to war, they would typically set up a tent in the middle of the camp for their deity. Basically, whoever won the battle had the strongest God. Yahweh had a great history of defending his people in battle, and the collapse of his temple would completely demoralize the people. Their strength vanished as quickly as Samson’s hair.
  3. Delight of your eyes: The Israelites loved their temple. It was the centre of their very existence as a nation!  Israel was not a nation because they lived in a certain place: they were a nation because God called them out from the nations and determined to live with them.
  4. The passion of your life: I hope the repeated emphasis has given you a sense of what the Temple meant both to God and to Israel. Now it was gone.

. . .

It’s important that we understand this passage from a post-cross perspective. In Ezekiel’s day, Israel was called to be a shining light for God in the midst of the nations. They were not called for privilege, but for purpose. The nations were expected to flock to the temple like moths to a flame. Unfortunately, Israel dampened the flame and was judged for her apostasy.

Today things are different. We are the temple of God. Instead of expecting nations to come to us, Jesus has sent us to the nations. Instead of being geographically centered on a specific location, God’s kingdom is wherever his subjects plant their feet.

. . .

Unsearchable God, remind us of just how much you love your new temples. Give us the courage to obey and follow you despite how enigmatic you appear. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 24:1-14 | Insulting Injury

Interlude: Judgment’s Complete >

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6 Responses to Ezekiel 24:15-27: Don’t Mourn

  1. laura meure June 28, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    I think Ezekiel’s wife died because she would have died anyway not because God killed her. God is love and he dosen’t kill people. We get things all messed up by making God a humane. I think the old testament is just a history book and God isn’t responsible for all the dumb things people do. Jesus came to set us straight and we confused that too. Love is the key, not judging , forgiving each other, not being vengeful when someone does something to you or your family, and so on.. We will all find out when our bodies give out and our souls continue on to our real life : )

  2. Howard March 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    I have known people of whom it was said, “It’s a good thing he didn’t live to see what became of his son,” (who became a thief and went to jail). Ezekiel’s wife would have been even more distressed to hear of the end of the Temple.

  3. Stephen Barkley March 18, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    Huh. I’ve never thought of it that way.

  4. Bryan Dolan September 9, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    God did not simply use the prophets as mouthpieces. God wanted to get a hold of their hearts, and he had the prophets live out their message. For example, Hosea had to feel what God was feeling from an idolatrous, apostate nation. In this case, in order to deliver God’s message, Ezekiel had to feel what it was like to lose the love of his life, which was essentially what God was losing when his people and his temple were destroyed.

    In our lives, God often gives us experiences so that we can become better ministers. We are better ministers when we can relate to the message we are called to deliver. When we have walked in another person’s shoes, we can better empathize with a person who is going through a particular experience.

    God’s prophets lived his messages.

  5. Robin September 21, 2014 at 7:19 am #

    Do I really need to know all of the workings behind what happened to Ezekiel or anything else that happens in time and space? If the Lord chooses to show me, do I have the capacity to understand or will much of it be wasted, overflowing from this way-too-underdeveloped spiritual brain?

    “Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding? Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; BUT THOSE WHO HOPE IN THE LORD SHALL RENEW THEIR STRENGTH. THEY WILL SOAR ON WINGS LIKE EAGLES; THEY WILL RUN AND NOT GROW WEARY, THEY WILL WALK AND NOT BE FAINT” (Isaiah 40:13, 14, 27-31).

    The closer I get to the Lord, the less I seem to know. The more I read his Word, the shakier my knees become. My confidence dissolves and I find myself more and more reliant on the power of the Holy Spirit to do the explaining for me. The more I sit quietly before the Lord, the more I am willing to give up the security of knowing here and now the answer to all my questions. This much I know:

    His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
    His pow’r has no boundary known unto men;
    For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
    He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!
    (From “He Giveth More Grace” by Annie Johnson Flint)

  6. Phyllis Bush October 15, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

    Right before Obama’s 1st election, I had an unusual encounter with the Lord concerning this particular story about Ezekiel’s wife. Usually praying before I read the Word God sent me to Nehemiah. When I read about his grief over the destruction of the temple and how
    he asked to repent for his people; such overpowering grief came over me that I asked God could I repent for my country ( as I felt we have strayed from being a God-driven nation)
    He immediately sent me to Ezekiel 24:15 – I was totally unaware of the story- This is what the story said to me ” Stop grieving over your country ; know “I AM ” the one who is bringing this about (I.e. the fall of this country) The parallel for me was He told Ezekiel not to grieve over one whom he loved – so I was not to grieve over the country I loved as HE wanted me to know HE was bringing about this destruction!!!!
    Key verse: Ezekiel 24:24. “Thus Ezekiel will be a sign to you; according to all that he has
    done you will do; when it comes, then you will know that I am
    the Lord God.”

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