Before we dive into a section that gets really gloomy, please go back and ready the blog entry before this on the first half of Ezekiel chapter 14. It’s all about hope.
The second half of Ezekiel chapter 14 takes a sudden turn into more ominous territory. Anyone who has even heard of the Book of Revelations knows about a certain reference to the Dark Horseman. This image has become so iconic as to almost become archetypal in western thought. In fact, most of us including myself, are too horrified at the thought of these matters that we just avoid sections of scripture like this.
But reading through what Ezekiel has written here sends my thoughts along two different tracks at the same time. The first is the consistent use of a very important word: “IF”. The second track is the huge similarity to of imagery to what John wrote in the Book of Revelations – commonly referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The same four dreadful judgments are introduced here in Ezekiel almost a thousand years before Revelations was written. But what does it mean? And more importantly, what does it mean to you and me trying to figure things out in our lives?
I’m pretty sure I do not possess all the answers, but there are some things that come across. These judgments come in a certain order for Israel. 1) Hunger and Famine 2) Wild beasts wandering through 3) the sword 4) disease and pestilence otherwise known as plague. I don’t think this is accidental. Many commentators think that the wild beasts represent the invading armies wandering unhindered through Israel, going about defiling everything. This is nothing to God since everything is defiled already by what the people of Jerusalem were already doing. If this is true, then the Hunger and Famine are due to siege conditions with food supplies being “cut off” as is mentioned in verse 13. The sword falls on those who resist the free movement of the invading “Beasts” in much the same way that any invading army usually makes examples out of the presumed “ring leaders” in every village. This leaves those who are vulnerable whether by age, or affliction, or injury, or poverty. These are the ones who have no means to do much more than survive, often having no choice but to exist in the shackles of starvation and poor health conditions. We see this even today – just by turning on the news.
These are “dreadful judgments” indeed, to use the expression from the verse. But always the work of the prophet is to point out the truth of a situation, and at the same time speak to the spiritual life of a people too. And we see this by Ezekiel’s reference to Daniel, Job, and Noah; one prophet who led the faithful to life beyond utter destruction, one iconic person of history who endured much tribulation in the name of faith, and one prophet who was with the people right now in captivity.
So when I look at these four judgments, I have to ask myself if I have given my heart to something that leads away from true faith that I now find myself feeling surrounded, walled in, under siege where my spiritual food is cut off and I feel hungered. Am I letting fads, fashions, pop-culture pear pressure run through my existence like wild beasts. Do my principles and ethics fall to the sword of the weekly paycheck. Is my family life withering under the plague of obliterated communication and impatience. What are we doing to ourselves? Where is our humanity? Where is our patience and sense of mercy? Has fairness been permanently evicted from our souls?
Wait. Wait a minute. What if there was still room in our perspectives for a sense of community? What if we heard and responded to a call for justice? There is that key word I mentioned earlier? **** IF **** if, if, if, if
God says that at the beginning of each of the examples of judgment eg. IF I decide to do this, you can not avoid this, etc. If. Which tells me there is reluctance to take that step if at all possible to avoid. It now feels like God is begging please, please don’t take things this far. Please don’t make it necessary for me to decide that there is no other alternative way to deal with you.
And that, once again, highlights that we have choice. We have agency. “Choose this day to serve the Lord” is how the scripture goes. It means choose today, choose tomorrow, think about it again and again and each time choose the path of the disciple. Choose the path of faith, which is a path of bravery and exploration of things God has yet to share. Ezekiel had to be brave to meet God out in the middle of the desert – out in open country – to receive the concept that Faith travels, that God is continually with his people. He had to face whole new concepts, pass through boundaries previously imposed by society and religious tradition. It was hard, it was uncomfortable.
Finally, at the end of the chapter, we are directed to observe the children. God tells Israel in captivity to watch the children and see why the judgments have fallen as they have. We do need to think of our children, of the next generation. We need to pass on the value of Charity, Mercy, Justice, Compassion and inclusive community. Are we doing a very good job? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
Thanks for checking in on this blog – my travelogue through Ezekiel.