Taking a look at Ezekiel Chapter 15 – a very short chapter with lots going on.
I wonder what y’all will think of this entry. Have fun.
Have you ever tried to get rid of a patch of poison ivy vines growing up and around a cluster of trees? Not fun I can tell you. You can use various poisons, of course, but their always seems to be another outbreak if you don’t get enough poison to reach all the way down to the roots. For that matter, even if you get the roots, poison ivy is able to seed new vine off-shoots if it puts new roots down along its path. You have only been successful eradicating the poison ivy infestation if you are able to kill it at both root and end of the vine.
Nice, you say. What’s this have to do with Ezekiel chapter 15, you say. In Chapter 15, we are given what seems to be a whimsical parable at almost random. It’s not the usual vision, nor is it a response to the “Elders” of Israel. It’s almost as if Ezekiel was wondering aloud why all of these extreme measures were necessary. Can you blame him? The answer, of course, is given within the text. It is the faith, or in this case, the un-faithfulness, infesting Jerusalem that God is objecting to. And part of the problem was the idea that took hold among the people that they could outlast the judgment and displeasure of God, so much so, that they ignored and imprisoned Jeremiah the prophet. They were dead set on resisting the guidance to submit to Babylon, regardless of what they were being advised.
Many of the commentaries fall back to looking for analogues between the images of the prophetic oracle, and what we know of the physical world in history, The method in this case is to liken the vines of Chapter 15 to the royal realms of Judah and Israel, etc.
But as I mentioned above, the focus of the chapter is on Faith, something that is hard to quantify or measure in terms of man. From this perspective, I feel that the chapter is more directly describing the society and religious hypocrisy of the day.
Getting back to the vine metaphor then, you have to ask, where does a vine get its support – draw nutritrients? How and where does it spread? The ills that afflicted Jerusalem, indeed, did not exist in a vacuum any more than corruption (political or otherwise) exist today without networks of support. Something has to feed it. We saw in earlier chapters how there was collusion between those of authority – and assumed authority – that enabled a few select to deceive the tender, the vulnerable, the weak, and those who cling to their faith.
So when God tells Ezekiel that he has burned the vine at both ends, God is saying that it was necessary to purge out the root of the vine, that from which it gets its support and strength, and at the same time he has prevented it from spreading further. Spreading where? To the neighboring nations possibly, to all of the local synagogues through out the twelve tribes possibly, or perhaps to future generations (my favorite). In any case, the spreading had to stop. So the vine was burned at both ends.
And in answer to Ezekiel’s astonishment that what had always been treasured was gone forever, God declares that the vine really has no intrinsic worth in and of itself. It simply wasn’t worth preserving. The only value that the vine had was its ability to bear good fruit. But Jerusalem had ceased to be a light on the hill, had ceased to be a court of justice, and the temple had ceased to be a place dedicated to prayer and humble offering before the Lord. There was no more fruit to be had. And other than that, having a vine laying around is simply more trouble than it is worth. You can’t make anything out of it – only burn it.
This answer to Ezekiel is powerful, even today. For me, it speaks to questions about how we conduct ourselves in today’s world, what we enable, and what we tolerate from those who feel entitled to suppress or deceive others. This passage, in my opinion, links religious hypocrisy with injustice – social injustice, religious injustice, racial injustice, etc.
Ezekiel’s visions cry out to us as human beings together in a world of fear and pain. Ezekiel stood against accepted norms that were unjust. And here in the 15th chapter of Ezekiel he speaks of the inevitable end that will come to the vines that grow within our culture that produce no good fruit, but only exist for their own existence. Having no intrinsic worth it is only good for the fire.
For those who consider the Books of the Prophets as having nothing to do with the Gospels which tell of the Christ, consider this: Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches”. He did not say Jerusalem was the vine, nor the Temple, nor Israel. He is the vine that produces good fruit. And what was that fruit? It was mercy to the poor, the outcast, those who found themselves marginalized by society. He forgave, He prayed, He healed, He cared, He called others to do the same.