What the prophetic tradition knows
is that it could be different,
and the difference can be enacted.
— Walter Brueggemann (The Prophetic Imagination)
Breathe deep. We’ve made it. The first 24 chapters of Ezekiel (which we’re through) are predominantly about God’s judgment on his own people. Now: enter hope. The climax of God’s judgment was the symbolic death of Ezekiel’s wife. Ezekiel’s beloved wife represented God’s beloved temple. In some horribly profound way, the enactment of Jerusalem’s death via Ezekiel’s wife paved the way for restoration and new life after the slaughter.
The book of Ezekiel as a whole can be divided into three main sections:
- Judgment on Israel (chs. 1-24)
- Judgment on the surrounding nations (chs. 25-32)
- Hope for Israel (chs. 33-48)
“Look, there are still 8 chapters of judgment to go,” you may say! True, but in these chapters God judges Israel’s enemies. In a negative way, the next 8 chapters are full of hope for God’s people even as they are full of judgment for God’s enemies.
. . .
At the brink of such a major shift in the message of Ezekiel, I think it might be fitting to remember some of the important lessons the Jewish people have learned through Ezekiel:
- God’s love is unstoppable: God’s desire from the day Adam broke fellowship was to restore it. By Ezekiel’s day, God’s presence in the Temple was counterproductive. Instead of worshiping Yahweh, people were taking him for granted. Familiarity bred contempt. Paradoxically, God saw that the most effective way to restore fellowship with the world was to destroy those who were originally called—but were now leading the procession away from God.
- God takes infidelity personally: The heart-wrenching stories in chapters 16 and 23 tell us that spiritual idolatry is tantamount to extra-marital adultery. The personal details in these chapters show us that God takes Israel’s departure from him very personally. Israel hurt God.
- God cannot be toyed with: Do you remember what the Israelites did in the temple? They pushed the brazen altar into the corner of the courtyard so they could erect a statue to a foreign deity. Do you remember when Ezekiel dug through the wall and saw what all the leaders of Israel were doing—each worshiping all manner of animals? God will not put up with this sort of insult. Imagine it from his perspective. He created the entire universe, and then mercifully chose to condescend to live with his people. He chose Israel to be the nation through whom he would restore the entire world! Yet after a few years they wind up worshiping the things that Yahweh made—snakes, spiders, and the like. They put creation on par with the Creator, and the Creator did not stand for it.
- God cares for the poor: When the broad messages of judgment turn to specific indictment, abuse of power is a common theme. Again, try to see this from Yahweh’s perspective. He created all humanity equally in his image. Some of his creatures managed to grasp more power than others, and they quickly used it to oppress and extort their fellow humans. It was obscene, and it leads us to our next point.
- God’s power dwarfs the power of humans: Israel thought they had power. Even though their very lives were a result of God saving and sustaining power, they began to think that they were self-sufficient. They sought political alliances with Egypt and Babylon, forgetting that their only strength was in Yahweh whom they were ignoring.
- God expects everything from his messengers: Ezekiel went through a lot in these first 24 chapters. He had to create a model of a city, and then lie on his side for days. He was asked to clap, stomp, and snort. He was grabbed by the hair by the Spirit of God and told to dig through a wall. He was mocked and ridiculed for what God asked him to do. In the end, God took his wife—the delight of his heart. God will stop at nothing to restore his people, and will demand everything from his messengers to accomplish his will.
- God holds justice and mercy in one hand: This truth is paradoxical to us: God is love / God is just. We think we need to choose—will we be merciful or just in each specific situation? But God holds those two attributes together without difficulty. How do you judge a people whom you love? Ultimately, the paradox was conquered in Christ. When Jesus died, he was at the same time God’s chosen beloved son, and the black face of all of humanity’s sins. God’s love and justice found its fullest expression on the cross.
Seven is a suitable number. There are obviously many more lessons to be learned from Ezekiel 1-24, and we have reflected on them over the past year. Take these seven as the start of your own list of reasons to fear, reverence, and praise Yahweh.
. . .
Almighty God, your loving power and awful mercy is beyond my understanding. Help me to continually live in light of your Son’s sacrifice, by the power of his Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.