Ezekiel Blog 11: Poetic license

For those intrepid enough to keep coming back to this blog, thanks. I’m taking on the book of Ezekiel. By that I mean, I’m reading it through – fresh. Yes, I’m researching commentaries, but I’m following a different pattern, a different way of looking at it. And here we are at Ezekiel Chapter 7.  there is a really good layout of this chapter at the Biblegateway.com portal a this URL which shows the following break out of the poems.

Something remarkable happens in this chapter. Ezekiel transitions into poetry, and this strikes a chord with me. The poem is divided into three sections, with the third section having 4 verses.  There is parallelism all over the place and the poem is full of imagery.

Why a poem?  First off, that was not that uncommon for prophets to deliver their oracles in poetic format, or even song/chant. But, why now, why does Ezekiel turn to this?  None of the commentaries that I’ve read through speculate.  Most refer to the chapter as a mess, chalk full of dizzying repetition.  So here is what I think.

For me, poems evoke emotion.  Feeling flows along with the verse allowing overlapping expression, sometimes of conflicting feelings.   You see anger and wistfulness mixed together, resoluteness and regret.  The soul wakes up and listens even if the ear does not comprehend.

Anybody out there ever listen to a Rolling Stones song called “Satisfaction”?  Or, even any of the pop tunes on Disney channel?   Talk about dizzying array of repetitive text.  So that is hardly fair criticism.  What it does do is bring the listener into some familiar landmarks because of the repetition. Ezekiel wanted people to remember key elements – especially the parts about “repaying you for your ways”.

The thing is, scripture is a lot like art – in many ways. One of which is that it engages the soul, it suspends legalism, and technical analysis on the fly.  It uses imagery to capture spatial attention and help ingrain essential impressions.  And…as Jewish rabbi’s say, there are so many ways to interpret scripture…the Seventy faces of the Torah, etc.

Up ’til now, Ezekiel has been dealing with commandments, understanding the relationship of what he was experiencing to original trail blazed by Moses.  We have had types and foreshadowing, symbols of what God was about to do.

So the question really becomes, what do you hear in these verses?  When I read this through, here is what I hear.

The first poem is a high level summation of everything discussed up to this point, and a condensed version of the remaining sections of the poem.  It’s the big opening, chaismic format and all.  It ends with the assurance that “they will know that I am God.”

The second section directs the motion of the poem, for what is something spoken unless it is heard.  Ezekiel is using something we hear today at almost any concert venue, “…this goes out to all you people who blah, blah, blah,….”   It’s a shout-out to all those who still live in this land, the high places of Jerusalem; to those people I told to leave and who disobeyed and continue to hang around…..still.   As will any poem, you can feel emotion in these verses. In this case, the emotion is resentment for “the conduct among you” which has brought all of these things to fruition.  And it’s more than them just refusing to leave. It was the plain avarice that caused them to take advantage of the forced exodus of their own countrymen – hastily moving in and taking over the riches of those who were forced into exile.  They craved control.  Well, with control comes accountability.

The third poem section drips with remorse for the emptiness of the state of things yet to come. There is lonesomeness and sorrow in the words of judgement.  Three verses begin with “None”  will be left, followed  by a great big “Nothing”.    No One. Not one left. Not even 10 good people are left to spare the city as was the case with Lot and family back in Genesis.  And this was emphasized 4 times to ensure that Ezekiel, along with everyone else, that these conditions pass even that test of God’s judgment. In other words, Don’t even go there.  And neither the buyer nor the seller should be in any mood for celebration.  No one is going to be able to angle their way out with a good deal or make a last minute bargain. Religion and faith were not supposed to be for sale, and yet that is exactly what had been done in the highplaces…not only with the faith of the Torah, but even with some of the borrowed religions from other countries.   Salvation can not be bought.  Same as today. Salvation. Can’t. Be. Bought.

Moving on to the next section, section 4.
Trumpet?   What trumpet? This isn’t Jericho where trumpets sounded against overwhelming odds and Israel gained victory.  Ezekiel is reminded that this favorite story of the Torah is not going to happen either.  the people are buying into false hopes.  Plagues are mentioned in this section of the poem too.  Once again, the plagues are not to protect Israel as they were in the days of Egypt leading to Israel’s liberation.  Not going to play out that way in this case.  In all of these references, favorite stories of deliverance from the Torah are being referenced and denied because of the current “conduct among you”.   And there is a complete sentiment of Shame laden in these verses.

The 5th section of the poem deals with a central issue in all of these matters.  Money.   There appears to be no justice, no compassion, no mercy, no charity or sharing. It’s all about me and mine.  To this God speaks directly.   Silver and Gold, all your silver and gold “will not satisfy”.   In other words, the people of Israel are full of hunger – hunger for the upper hand – but that hunger will never be satisfied. And all the money in the world will not change that. God tells Ezekiel, “…I will turn my face away from the people”.  Honestly, what could be worse than that?  God is willing to just let robbers go in and defile the temple, that would be far preferable to what is going on now.  God is willing to accept the burden of that visible shame in the eyes of the world, so long as it stops the wholesale merchandizing effort, the profit and Loss center that used to be his Holy House of Prayer.

And finally, the 6th section of this poem.  It is to be the end of the mighty, those that esteem themselves above the rest. Once again the recurring theme comes back, and everyone can sing along, “because of their conduct among them”.  It is for this reason that the destruction has arrived and cannot be stopped.  God then tells Ezekiel, “and THEIR sanctuaries will be desecrated”.  God has totally disowned that temple space at this point. It’s theirs, their prayers do not rise to me, it represents their interests – not  mine.

This confirms the original message to Ezekiel, his original vision of God’s presence in the desert and not in His Holy Temple. The people have defiled it – all that is left is the demolition and rezoning.   God’s presence has moved back into the whole world and is not focused in one specific place.  Where ever God’s people are, that is where God will be. And God’s people will be recognizable by their charity, their justice, the prayers that they offer, their mercy and humility.

And as the chapter says in the closing, “…and they shall know that I am God.”

 

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Ezekiel Blog 10: The high country

Hi folks. Thanks for coming back to my blogging through a reread of Ezekiel.

If you ever watched “Caddyshack” – the movie- you will remember how reverently the Judge fell back to using his “Old Bullabaloo” when pushed to extremes to win the final hole of the golf match. Funny how people can be so superstitious about a familiar old ace-up-my-sleeve last resort.  I hear baseball pitchers are the same way when the pressure is on.

That’s sort of what Ezekiel chapter 6 is about in many ways.  Now I have to say that this chapter is handled very strangely by all the commentators.  One of the commentaries said this about Ezekiel chapter 6(the whole chapter):  “Ezekiel prophecizes against the mountains of Israel.”

Yep. That was it.  Others go into a bewildering explanation of all the editorial content that might have been added by other writers.  One did bring up that much of the imagery of these two chapters was made to be so explicit because it was directly traceable back to a prophecy of Moses found in Leviticus 26:30-33. Of all of this, I find the Leviticus reference helpful because it emphasizes the message to Ezekiel that he is still on a similar path as Moses was, that there is a correlation between Moses and Ezekiel’s work as I’ve explored in earlier posts of this blog.  In other words, the original vision that Ezekiel had, his vision of calling, continues to prove true.

As for me, I am always interested in the imagery and the poetry.  There is a reason – usually – why things are expressed in certain ways in scripture.  Scripture, after all, comes from the interaction of the Divine, of God, with the human soul. It therefore stands to reason that soulful imagery is designed to engage other souls. Chapter 6 is no different in that the images presented are horrifying to the reader as the reader finds his soul wanting to shy away from that content.

So what do we have here in Chapter 6?   Places of sacrificial worship found on the high places of Israel, alters to foreign gods present under trees, on the mountain tops, and even in proximity to the Temple, all being thrown together as a field of dead carcasses.  And to boot, all the people of Israel – those that place any kind of stock in such practices will have their bones scattered round about these fallen idols.  This judgment will fall on the mountains, hills, rivers, and valleys.  By this we know that all stratus levels of society in Jerusalem will be affected, mainly because all stratus levels of Israel were engaged somehow in this practice of piety to foreign idols of stone.  Pretty heavy stuff I know.

So in the first place, we have a fulfillment of what God predicted way, way back at the beginning of the actual nation/state of Israel/Judah.  So we see completion. Dreadful as it is, it is important to know that God remembers what he says.

More importantly to me, is the concept of dead and drying bones scattered around the dead bodies of the Idols themselves.  The idols have been knocked over showing that they really have no ability to stand for long.  And, like the judge character in Caddyshack, the people have flocked to their superstitious standby – their old bullabaloo in times of impending disaster.  But God is showing us through the visions of these prophets that there is NO Life to be found there – only death. There is no way through that barren portal.

The only assurance here is that the trinity of plagues mentioned will come about upon the population. They will be purged by the sword (war and violence) even when they scatter, disease, and famine/starvation.  When viewed through human lenses, this can be restated as

  • destruction caused directly by other people
  • destruction caused by the neglect and uncaring position of other people
  • destruction caused by lack of mercy, compassion, teamwork, and sharing among their own people.

Hmmmm we seem to have these same plagues still upon us today, don’t you think.

I find myself asking myself, what are my high places, things of import that I have constructed that take God’s place? Do I create ritual in place of faith? Do I have a fallback last resort “old bullabaloo” putter that I only whip out in a crunch?

Perhaps it would be better to look to where there is life, to where the story of faith takes us rather than end up as a heap of dry bones scattered around the base of some forgotten idol of fixation.