Ezekiel Blog 7: an Onerous task, lying about

Hi, thanks for coming back to my expeditions into the experiences of Ezekiel.  At present I am working through the 4 signs of the prophet found in Ezekiel chapter 5.

Firstly Ezekiel was commanded to draw a picture of Jerusalem and simulate siege against it. Now we are presented with a most puzzling condition to observe; that of a prophet of God being told to go to bed.  This is enough to catch anyone off guard, but if you look closely at this, there is something compelling about this directive to our guy Ezekiel.

I keep trying to consider what Ezekiel must have been thinking or feeling, and I admit this must have been very perplexing to him. How does this relate to Moses?  To us, in modern times and familiar with Christian perspectives, the concept of “bearing the sins” of Israel relates very strongly to the actions of Jesus.   And yet, Moses too complained about the heavy burden of leading his people which weighed on him.

More importantly, Moses and Ezekiel had a similar task at that moment.  In both cases, their people wanted desperately to return to the lace that they knew, the place where everything was familiar – to go back to just the way it was.  And here is God saying no, we’re going to take over a year to sit here and consider what I’m about to do to Jerusalem and why.  Here is my warning and at the same time, here is my mercy.

It is at this point that Ezekiel must have connected the dots so to speak. The directive is to meditate on Jerusalem, meditate and think on the disasters about to come upon the remaining inhabitants.  He thinking about the plagues about to come, and that he was the one bringing tidings of this kind – just like Moses.  Heavy burden indeed.

But that is not all. God wanted him to take on physical attributes of this pause before the real storm. Ezekiel was to lie in his bead on only one side for “X” number of days to represent the same number of years for one house of Israel, and then “Y” number of days to represent the same number of years of the other house of Israel; in the later case, it was 40 days to represent Judah.

He is to prophecy with outstretched arm, while lying in bed,  over the image of Jerusalem and relate over and over again that things about to befall that city. How mentally, emotionally, and spiritually grueling it must have been.  Further, to look at the image of the besieged city as you go to sleep, and to have that as the first thing you see every single day for over a year.

Here in again we gain a glimpse at the way God chooses to interact with his people. Ezekiel’s behavior must have been perplexing to his neighbors and to the Elders of Israel in exile as they came to visit him. To his family, it must have been distressing to see how this weighed on Ezekiel.  But through all that, it must have been fiercely visible how dedicated was Ezekiel’s contemplation of Jerusalem.  He was unswerving every day of that sign, his face was set towards Jerusalem and could not be turned.  This is the same way that Jesus was described on his final journey to Jerusalem.  One can almost picture God’s eyes, longing for the committed faith of his people as he gazes over the city of Jerusalem, much as Jesus’ eyes when he wept for the holy city.

No, the modern reader can not pronounce God to be an immediately vengeful God full of anger and destruction in the old testament. He did not just randomly fling disaster and judgment and plague in some capricious manner as depicted in the mythology of other nations.  As we will read further on, this is not mindless obedience God is seeking. Even in the next verses we see an interaction with Ezekiel that is focused on purpose and faith. God was looking for open acceptance of the principles of faith and justice, and an adherence to the call to come worship in prayer, in humility, in generosity and the spirit of compassion, all of which Israel had left at the door as they came running to bow before their newly adopted practices of idol worship.

Is it any wonder that God called one man, once again, to come out into the middle of a desert, to teach him about faith, faith that is not bound to this place or that place, this rock or that rock, etc. Just faith, just truth,  just prayer, just trust.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ezekiel blog 6: Now to get things going…

This blog entry will be a little longer than the others because we are dealing with a transition from Ezekiel encountering whole new concepts about God at a personal level into his new role of watchman for Israel and to the immediate tasks at hand. All of this relates to the end of Chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 of the book of Ezekiel.

We start with our guy face down on the plain or open desert country – literally face down.  It must have been overwhelming to Ezekiel to come face to face with the Glory of God and to be taught whole new concepts in a religion Ezekiel thought he knew pretty well to begin with.

We are told that the Spirit came in, the Spirit raised him up, and then the Spirit spoke to him.  That is an interesting progression of perception and so vastly different from the get well quick and everything will be fixed for you right now mentality of some subsections of modern Christian programming.  I’m speaking about the type of belief subset where a person experiences an inconvenience, makes a bland statement about general belief or maybe says a quick formula prayer, cleverly seizes an opportunity to overcome the inconvenience and then states that “God must be blessing me today”.

That is worlds different than Ezekiel being pushed to the end of his strength and endurance to where his brain overloads and he collapses.  And then, right there, at that point, the Spirit comes in.  Why?   Because there is room for the Spirit of God now. Ezekiel is empty and has become a possible sacred vessel for the Holy Spirit.  Vessel, not a possessed mannequin,…a vessel – big difference.

Now Ezekiel has seen his visions, he has heard the Word of righteousness, judgment, and warning. He has so much to tell, Ezekiel must have been bursting at the seams to get started.  Except for one thing…

God’s first task to Ezekiel is to go lock himself in his house and not say a word.  Not only that, he will be bound with ropes, probably by his own people so that he will not be able to openly share what he has seen.  Those in religious authority over the community would have good reason to fear a new voice, for there is much power to be held when people live in fear and are looking for some kind of direction.

For that matter, this isn’t exactly news.  Ask any new minister wanting to try a fresh approach and you will hear the same thing. There are always walls of resistance immediately built.  Colleagues will begin to say things like, “You can’t say that -it’s not the way we do things around here”, “I know you want to change things, but maybe you should listen to wiser heads”, or “This is not the mainstream message we’ve always worked with.” etc.  You know the drill.   Jesus faced this, Moses, faced this, John the Baptist faced this.  It’s nothing new and God was telling Ezekiel that the same would happen to him.

But the timing was all in God’s favor anyway.  Let them bind Ezekiel to prevent him from rocking the boat. And if they wanted to preview Ezekiel’s message first – and in private – God would bind up Ezekiel’s mouth.  In other words, God was going to speak, when He was good and ready to,  and not until all his current judgments had been completed on Israel’s sorry state.

God had a message for the people, a message of change in thinking.  This message had begun with Jeremiah.  It was a message that would challenge the status quo mentality of the established clergy who was wholly focused on the supposed glory days of the Temple.

I think that Ezekiel must have been reflecting on the story of Moses’ inability to talk and being bound and brought before Pharoah.  How absurd that the role of Egypt was being fulfilled by his own people.  This must have crystallized the belief of Ezekiel that God was right.

And that brings us to the first sign.  Now most of the prophets that we read about in the Old Testament had a format of writing down their visions, sometimes in prose, and sometimes in poetry/song. In any event, there was the presentation of the message, the pronouncement in the courts of the rulers of Israel, etc.

Ezekiel – not so much.   He is told to get a clay tablet and draw a picture of Israel on it so that he can symbolically lay siege to the city and portray the actuality of Israel’s total isolation – of being completely cut off.  Now, how do you draw a picture of a city on a 6×9 clay tablet so that anyone can tell what it is?   If you think about tourist maps, the kind you get in most costal towns, city areas are always represted by some kind of landmark.  San Francisco is always  represented by the Golden Gate Bridge and that Pyramid sky scraper. I imagine that Ezekiel represented Jerusalem by its pinnacle landmark, the Temple – the very place that has God so upset – the place that epitomizes the very corruption of faith which caused this whole mess in the first place.

In a way, it kind of reminds me of some other forms of representational imagery used in religious circumstances.  For instance, Navajo tribal elders will spend days creating a beautiful sandpainting which contains images that lead tribal members to meditate on specific elements of their faith.  Thoses images are the focus until the end of the ceremony at which time, the painting is destroyed and the sands cast to the wind.

Same thing going on here with Ezekiel.  On this image of Jerusalem will he focus his attention for over one year of time.  I imagine it was quite the conversation piece for anyone who stopped by to visit.  And if you think about it, the warning for the coming events did last for well over a year. It’s not as if God was acting like some sleeping giant who suddenly came to to life in anger and inexplicably destroyed Jerusalem.  This had been coming on for a good long time and Jerusalem had been warned many times over by a God who is very patient.

And this transition for Ezekiel from observer of vision, to focal point of the attention of Israel must have been a heavy burden for Ezekiel.  It is plain to see at this point, that the stage had been set and the very first element of Ezekiel’s message will carry us through the rest of the connected actions of warning and judgment.  It is not obscure as in so many other areas of prophetic writing. This is as clear as a whiteboard drawing in one of today’s business briefing rooms. God is pointing to this simple drawing of a city on a hill and saying “This, this right here. This is the problem. It has been the problem and it’s still the problem.”

 

 

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog 5: Finally some blessed rest

My continuing Ezekiel blog – thanks for dropping in.

There is an interesting note in 2nd Chronicles that refers indirectly to Ezekiel – or at least the experiences of the people at the end of the rule of Jerusalem.  In short, the verses talk about the end of the destruction of Jerusalem and the invasion of the land. It talks of the people being carried away from their homeland and that all the houses of worship had been destroyed. And then, at the very end of the narrative, the verse says something to the effect that the land finally observed the sabbath and could rest.

So often we get caught up in the human story, and forget that God is indeed concerned with all his creation, including the very land,  the very earth, and the sabbath.  It seems that the only way God could give the place an insured rest was to usher all of Israel off to another land.

So it begs the question, “Rest from what??”   Good question.  It seems that God was being an advocate for the land walked upon by the prophets, a land who was a victim of the capricious religious patronage of its population. So from the Land’s point of view, here are a bunch of people walking around demanding food, water, resources, etc. and then crafting Idols and adopting every stray religious cult that happened to swing through the neighborhood.  What happened to the simplicity of faith in a God who walked every step of the way with them in the wilderness?

So the land achieves silence, rest from this behavior and returns to an undisturbed state for 70 years.  Remember that throughout this book, there is representation of time by days. 70 years of rest, 7 days of silence from Ezekiel to whom the exiled people turned. And God uses the adjective “rebellious” 7 times when describing the state of Israel during Ezekiel’s calling.

God tells Ezekiel that he will bind up Ezekiel’s tongue, and that he shall not speak until God is ready. And God will be ready when the time of rest, the sabbath has been observed.  God has much to say to the people of Israel, but not until Jerusalem has been cleared of the presence of His fallen people, of Idol worship, of plain old fashioned lip service to the law.  And we see here that God is plainly willing to wait, even in the face of the impatience of the people of Israel in captivity.

That of course, is my read into these things. But I find that the message resonates with me  on many levels.  This idea of rest – not just because of exhaustion, but to take time to consider the works of God.  And this idea of Sabbath being applied to the land, to Mother Earth. She is a sacred gift and participant in the whole of creation.   The patience of God when dealing with humans. I know it seems that this book is about judgement and condemnation, but there is also a very strong thread of patience, that long has God allowed things to continue in error. Long has God observed the pain of his creation. And, though destruction is at hand, long will be the patience of God with His people in exile, those that complied with His judgment and accepted the new condition as Jeremiah advised.  God will be patient with Ezekiel as he struggles to wrap his mind around some of these totally new concepts about spirituality and the definition of sacred spaces. And God asks the people to be patient – though He knows that will fall on deaf ears.

Perhaps it’s time to observe the works of the Lord, and have the patience to watch carefully as God is at work in his creation.