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.”