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. 5 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.