Not to forget the ladies

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Now hold on here.  So far, Ezekiel has been talking about specific people, more specifically the MEN in charge of all things religions and governmental.  That’s 13 and a half chapters of all kinds of wrong-doing, etc.  The wrongs are addressed and the folks responsible are,…well held responsible.  But there is a certain focus to it all.  These groups, this situation, etc.   But there is no all-out blanket of judgment against men as a gender. Culturally, there seems to be an un-spoken “boys will be boys” when it comes to bringing on the entire downfall of your respective city-state / country / village. In other words, “men, you were bad, you got punished, lets try again.” To be clear, I’m speaking about cultural bias here, not accusing God of lackadaisical justice.  Again to be clear, in all instances, it is our own limitations that prevent us from understanding the fullness of what God is about.

That said, what about the women folk?

I’m thinking back through passages of history that stand in contrast.  Early Renaissance period and the Witch hunts through out Europe.  The establishment of the principle that women must be kept under lock and key because universally there is trouble to be had if they can just do what they want.  The outright ban on educating women for several centuries, and not to be left out, the Salem Witch Trials.   All of these, and many more, instances of fanatic adherence to supposed religious principles are all directed uniformly at a gender, rather than the specific persons as we see in Ezekiel’s oracles.  So it begs the question, what does Ezekiel have to say on the subject of women who trespass the law?

To be honest, biblical scripture has been used to justify the actions I just described.  Some of that scripture comes from this very chapter of Ezekiel.  But is that really what Ezekiel was intending with his prophecy?

Well, if we are irrationally predisposed to accept that all women have the potential to mysteriously become soul-trapping dark magic dealers,  it might seem reasonable to turn to Chapter 13: 17-23.  Suddenly we have grounds to fly off the handle, convene pop-up courts throughout the dark ages and start sentencing women to death for witchcraft.  That’s one half of one chapter of text,…..seven verses folks.   There are websites out there right now on the internet that cite this exact portion of this chapter as part of the combined Biblical condemnation of women as religious leaders. Additionally, the implication, historically, is that women are some how more susceptible to the enticements of witchery and must constantly be on guard against their own dark nature, etc. etc.

The problem is that readers from other centuries tended to skip through much of this chapter and just string together little bits of the text into a preconceived picture than can be applied as a stereotype.  For instance, it is a section that is specifically addressed to women – whoa that’s different.  Later on in the chapter it mentions veils of different lengths.  This then tied together with the phrase, “…ensnare souls”.  Finish it off with mention of “magic charms” and voila, you have an instant indictment against any female person who doesn’t quite fit in. These charges are so vague that they can be applied to almost anyone who is not in the popular crowd, or who is inconvenient in their opinions.  Yes indeed, these are serious witchcraft like charges, etc. etc.  However…..

To be blunt, that is not what Ezekiel Chapter 13: 17-23 is about at all.  Not even close.

This section starts with a very clear sentence which exactly states the Lord’s objection to the behavior of certain women of the community.  So right away, we see that Ezekiel is addressing a specific situation, just like he had to do with the male leaders of the community. These women that Ezekiel is addressing are the one’s who prophesy out of their “own imagination”.  They are making stuff up.    They do this in order to make themselves look good, to gain prestige, or to meddle with someone else’s emotional/spiritual crisis.

In modern times, when people do that, it is usually for some kind of profit. I am guessing that people were pretty much the same back then as well.  Ezekiel calls this out too.  He criticizes the women who lie to the people all for the payment of bowls of barley or other grain.  Think about that.  Their clientele is so poor, that they have to pay for services with the food off of their own table.  What kind of a holy person would demand some give up food, meals that are probably intended for children of the house.

And by what methods do these particular women use to distinguish themselves?  How do they make themselves stand out from the poor and lower classes?

They use head drapes like the men who are actual officials.  The thinking is: See – I’m like them, so you should listen to me.
They use Magic charms:  mysterious talismans whose purpose is to confuse the onlooker into thinking you know more than you really do.  The trap here is that the victim has to rely on your interpretation – which gives you control.

In effect, talismans (charms, tokens, et al) are all miniature forms of idols.  Does this mean that every charm bracelet sold in your local mall is some kind of perverse religion?  Not really.  It is only in the faith you give to such man-made things, or the control you give to someone else which makes this a thing of folly.  And magic charms and talismans come in many, many more forms these days. Whatever gives you a false strength over someone else – that is the charm you tie to your wrist for all to see.

I was recently in a rather well known coffee shop for lunch with my wife.  Sitting in the booth adjacent to us was a pair of women.  It was of interested because they both had study bibles out and a pile of highlighters and study materials.  One of them was somewhat younger than the other.  The older of the two seemed to be in the role of an instructor.  It was a bit surreal though as the “instructor” had the stereotypical froo-froo hair, several layers of makeup, Jewelry on both wrists, and a study guide facsimile that was clearly part of a larger program which she waved around and dramatically referred to.  I remember seeing the confused  expression on the younger woman’s face at what was being “explained” to her by the instructor who spoke in the again stereotypical southern accented bible-speak.  She was using all the sales techniques I’ve been trained in – and I could see the lost expression on the “student’s” face, I could imagine how disheartened she must be feeling.  I felt so sorry for her because this was, in part, what Ezekiel was talking about.  A minister’s job is not to confuse, overwhelm, and bully the timid inquirer. A minister isn’t supposed to be building himself or herself up. Quite the contrary.  Ask yourself if you can remember a single verse where Jesus sought to build up his public image with trinkets, taxation, or excessive presentation.

But getting back to Ezekiel 13, one could ask  why does this matter anyway?  Wasn’t it enough for Ezekiel to just condemn all the false prophets in the beginning of the chapter…’nough said?  Why the extra detail here?  The answer is found by asking the next question:  Who were these false female prophets affecting?  Ezekiel provides the answer:   Those who died but who were not supposed to die.   Additionally, these specific women lied and disheartened those who were seeking the truth,  and with their lies THEY ENABLED those who brought disaster upon Jerusalem.

And for that, they did earn a special place in the wrath being set loose upon Jerusalem.  But,…we do not, as a corollary, have a condemnation against all women, nor a judgment that they cannot participate in faith.

People, the message here is that true Prophecy is about Truth.

 

 

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog: How do you know?… -OK one of my longer ones..geez

Hi everyone, just moving on through some more of Ezekiel and blogging my way into some opencountry hopefully.  This time we’re at chapter 13.  See here courtesy of Biblegateway.com. This blog could just as easily been titled, “Now getting down to the heart of the matter”, but we’ll keep it as it is.

As you can see, by reading back through all the other entries, this has been one continuous narrative about the state of Jerusalem just before it was completely overrun by invaders from the East.  And at the crux of it all was a seeming willful disobedience to the direct and dire warnings of the prophet Jeremiah.  Ezekiel also delivered messages of warning directing the people to be faithful, to submit to a plan that did not seem to make sense at first pass, to be obedient to the will of God.

Yes, the visions detail all the wrong doings of the religious leaders in power at the time, their excesses as such. The narrative also describes the failings of the civic leaders and also the fall of the ruling family.  But there is one class of people that is reserved for last, the key to the whole problem:  Those that preached directly against the word of God’s anointed and appointed messengers.

These are the people who deliberately lead astray the confused, the under-privileged, who publically endorse the over-privileged and self-entitled.  These are the people who scheme to remove real agency which leads to faith by ensnaring the souls of the downtrodden with words meant to keep them in one place and under control through fear.  I’m not talking about Fear in the Biblical sense, a term which means faithful respect and awe.  I’m talking about fear of being socially ostracized, of being publically disgraced, a fear of having what little you have remaining taken away.

This behavior brings the most specific condemnation from God through the writings of Ezekiel.  The judgment is that they will not belong to the council of God’s people – an interesting statement. Further, they will not be listed in the book or records of Israel. Again interesting. But can you imagine anything worse than to be “written off” from the mercy of the Lord….literally? They are to be erased from all record.  I mean, at least the conquering enemy gets named by name.

It seems that God is against those who speak with “lying visions”.  What are those?  Ezekiel goes to some length to explain what is at the core of this accusation.   Ezekiel 13: 10 states, ““‘Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, …”  Did you catch that?  Here is where the term “whitewashing” comes from.  These individuals told the people that there was no danger, to ignore guys like Jeremiah, that there was no reason to re-examine faith and then they covered up any holes in their arguments with window dressing to confuse those who were trying to seek truth.

But this begs a very important question that is central to a spiritual reflection on the words of the prophets:  “How do you know?”  How do you know who is a prophet and who is a whitewash expert? Hmmm?

Ezekiel begins to give us clues back in chapter 12.  At the end of that chapter he mentions sayings among the people that boil down to;  “We hear prophecies all the time, but nothing ever happens.”  etc. etc.  God states that He is going to put an end to that kind of talk, in short, action will ensue.

The object here is the key quality of patience – something that goes hand in hand with faith. I’ll be the first to admit that this one is tough, something I struggle with myself all the time.  Why patience? Because it is a Godly quality, in other words Patience is a definable quality that God displays constantly – fortunately for us.  It is, therefore, a quality that we must be bold enough to try to emulate, knowing that it might take a lifetime of practice to get it right.  Patience is the road that faith travels on.  But it is HARD, from a human perspective, it is a hard thing to do as a response to faith.

So the false prophet is one who offers people quick fixes, easy outs, or over simplified absolutes; all with the price tag of personal brand loyalty.  You know what I’m talking about here.

But what else can we learn from Ezekiel on this topic? With his attention to detail, he must have been devastatingly aware of how he would be perceived since his message was so radically different from standard teachings.  Going back to the patience theme, remember the entire year that Ezekiel spent on the first initial signs to Israel bearing the sins of his people.

But additionally, there is a significant delineation Ezekiel draws between these false prophets and the real deal.  Back at the beginning of Chapter 13, in verse 4, we read an interesting accusation: “Your prophets, Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel…”  Jackals,…Jackals?!?  Oh, scavengers who prey on the weak and sickly or knaw on the bones of the fallen.  These are the kind of people who are really interested in their own agenda and not the concern of the people. This is borne out in the rest of this accusation eg.   not focusing attention on the actual holes in the wall, and not trying to repair those holes for the people.

What holes and what walls we should be asking.  Ezekiel is pointing out that these self appointed prophets, besides having no credentials or vision from the Lord, have not tried to heal the wounds of the community.  Not only do the other prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel speak of judgments, but they also point the way back to how the community should be in communion with God. Even Moses came down from his visionary experience with 10 (some say 14) commandments, clear steps on how to treat each other so that the community as a whole is uplifted and prepared to offer sacrifice, faith, and service to God.

We look to Ezekiels own writings and see his grief over the realization of the state of Israel; his identification of what is wrong at so many levels within the society at large. And we see him pointing out how this only leads to the ruin of the people who don’t know what to believe. He cries to the establishment,  stop the injustice upon your own people, stop the hypocrisy and indulgence to you own self-gratification without regard to the overwhelming needs of your people.  Ezekiel points to the other nations, neighbors of the region, and asks why aren’t we worse than they are from an ethical point of view? Where is the justice, where is the compassion, where is the charity???!!!  the list goes on.

If you have cable, HDTV, satellite TV etc. it isn’t to hard to find today’s self proclaimed prophets singing their wares on the airwaves(?)/cablewaves(?).  There is always some voice shouting out “you’ll be fine,…as long as you follow these rules by rote,…and donate to my cause” – that’s the easyout approach mentioned earlier. There’s always voices screaming hate and vilifying one subgroup of society or another – that’s the lack of charity, justice and compassion message just discussed,  and there is always a voice to be found that trumpets “Me and Mine, me first”, which Ezekiel clearly called out as not the voice of prophecy, or even basic ministry for that matter.

If Ezekiel were here today, he would be asking these voices:
1. Instead of shouting down at the community, why don’t you “Go to” the places where the wall is crumbling? Participate in the community where the breaches exist.

2. How are you going to mend those places of crumbling and cracking in the souls of the community?  Are you going to help find a path towards healing?  Or are you content to sit in your place of safety and comfort and look down on those less fortunate and claim that they have no faith.

3. Are you able to even discern where the holes in the wall of society exist? Where are the flaws which need to be exposed so they can be repaired.  The true ailment is more often than not a subtle thing.  You can’t froth at the mouth and scream to the heavens at what is most likely only a symptom and hope to bring true healing.

A true prophet reveals the presence of the God already in attendance, but hidden from the eyes of the unknowing. A true prophet leans on the healing flow of the Spirit to point out painful truths and yet offer the extended offer of forgiveness from God.  A true prophet calls Gods people to faith, true faith, not rote.

God called Ezekiel out onto the desert plain. Ezekiel called his people away from the crumbling walls of Jerusalem and out into open country confident that the Lord would be there to meet them and comfort them.

Next chapter begins to tell us how….
Sorry for being so long winded.

 

Ezekiel Blog: Chap. 12 “Slip out the back, Jack…”

Singer/Songwriter Paul Simon wrote a song about 50 ways to leave your lover…way back in the 1970’s.  It’s a callous concept, but rather insightful about the way certain people, who say all the right things to gain your trust, end up leaving you in the end. Seems like nothing to betray trust.

Looks like Ezekiel was trying to talk about the same thing as we come to Ezekiel Chapter 12 in this ongoing blog InOpenCountry.  Thanks for coming back and reading some more.

Now, some of the commentaries I’ve read describe this chapter as the beginning of an entirely new section of the Book of Ezekiel, unrelated so to speak to what’s been going on up til this point.   From my point of view, this section of prophecy is very much related to everything we’ve read so far and could be classified as good follow-up.  It doesn’t happen as much in today’s modern journalism, but you can still occasionally find a follow-up investigation to a former headline story…if you look hard enough.

In Ezekiel’s case, we are provided with a look at how the governmental leaders were portrayed back to the people held in captivity.  It’s not a very flattering image.  Imaging you are a captive with idealistic notions that somehow your noble and royal family is somehow leading a glorious fight against the invading army.  Instead you are presented with a scene where the prince digs his way out a wall so as to avoid detection. He sneaks out “the back, jack”.  He escapes his own people’s eyes, but not the justice of God as is detailed elsewhere in Chronicles.

So this is a follow up to the overall progression of the story eg.
The unfaithfulness of Israel –> Discovery and unveiling of reckless practices –> religious leaders exposed for their hipocracy –> Judgment confirmed and executed –> people in disarray –> ….but what about the highest level of government??

Ezekiel is shown that the prince of Israel is the kind of guy who sneaks out the back. He has no true love for his people, no true loyalty to the city, no concern even for those who help him – they are scattered.   And to all of this, he responds by hiding his eyes.

Have you ever watched on the news when public officials are indicted?  More often then not, they cover their eyes, put their hand up to block view of their face from the public. Obviously, they know they can be seen, but to actually meet the eyes of those whom you have betrayed seems to be to much to bear.  And similarly for this prince, the accusing eyes of the people of Israel, who were facing imminent conquest, much have been too much for what was left of his shattered self worth.

God uses his own words against the prince of Israel and chases him to the very borders of the land. It is there that the prince is apprehended by the armies of Babylon. His house and family are destroyed, and he is summarily blinded for the rest of his captivity – never to return to Israel.

So much for a pompously boasting royal line of government who had no mercy or taste for justice for the people of Israel.  In case it isn’t clear from this narrative, a situation where the leaders of a people are all about “me first” is not considered “just” leadership in the eyes of God.  The corruption of faith always follows, and it is the poor, the widow, the stranger, the falsely accused whom always fall victim in such periods of governmental influence.  The people turn to their religious leaders only to find them catering to their primary patron…that very same government.  And when all is revealed, they disappear with no thought for those who put trust in them.

“Slip out the back, Jack.
Make a new plan, Stan….

Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free”   -Paul Simon

Indeed.  It is something to be wary about.

Ezekiel is then told to eat his food with trembling to show the life of extreme fear that the people of Jerusalem will face. Fear indeed and evidently justified with the reality that their leaders have left them.  Those who placed their faith in the person of the prince instead of placing their faith in God must deal with the realization that there is no one to come be their advocate in the face of the enemy.

It is such a graphic and compelling line at the end of that section in Verse 19, “…they shall eat their food in anxiety, and drink their water in fear,…”  Gripping because that line also describes many families in our day and age.   We have seen our pop-icons and political/religious icons exposed in weakness and corruption. Many in our societies feel abandoned or pushed to the very fringe.  They live at the edges of communities, but never really in. Hearts full of anxiety and tongues wetted with fear.

It is only faith that allows the human condition to rise above the indecency of human pride and false entitlement.

Peace.