I remember working for a very large company once in Wisconsin. The management there was fond of using the phrase, “Will this be good for the business?” This seems to have been their only moral compass to guide their decision making process. Not surprisingly, when the company stock took a small dip, the managers walked out into the main office floor and randomly fired enough people right there, on the spot, in order to make up the cash flow deficit. These people were happily sacrificed for the supposed “good” of the company.
Which brings me to the fact that I’m still digging around in Ezekiel chapter 16. There is so much here and symbolism at so many levels, it’s taking a long time to sort through it all. The commentaries are almost useless in many instances, many of them falling back to literal association attempts. I’m hovering somewhere between vs 20 and vs 35. Ezekiel is expanding on the accusations against Israel.
We are pressed constantly to appreciate the odd condition of prostitution that Jerusalem had created. In the middle of all this there is a reference to the sacrifice of their children, to which again the commentaries make a direct reference to actual child sacrifice of pagan religions in the area. I’m not so sure that is what Ezekiel is focusing on.
To be sure, the children are always targeted when religious extremity rears its fanatical head. Just look through news, current and past, and you will find religious zealots attacking schools, kidnapping children. Add to that the political extremes which constantly try to pass laws of one flavor of another which affect how children learn, or what they have access to learn. It’s here, it’s there. The language and culture of origin may be distant or right here in our own backyard. Extremism is just another form of idolatry, so this should not be a surprise. You can tell it is idolatry, firstly because it is created by humans (though often supposedly in the name of God), secondly because of the unforgiving (when is God not forgiving) nature of its demands, and finally how you are required to love it but it does not love you back.
However, all that aside, I think Ezekiel is addressing something more fundamental here. Elsewhere in scripture, the children of Israel are always the people, the common citizens of the country. These people are being sacrificed in Ezekiel’s eyes to avarice of the rulers of Jerusalem. We saw this earlier in the book of Ezekiel. But, ….sacrificed??
Back to my earlier example about hard working people being sacrificed for the “good” of the company. (And by the way, that’s not the only time I saw that kind of business stupidity being delivered from so called managers.) It is common for management/leadership/ruling class to look upon the rest of humanity as disposable to the needs of the moment. The passages of these interim verses of Ezekiel mention the involvement of the rulers of Jerusalem with other surrounding nations. High places were built to satisfy the whims of these other nations. That kind of thing demands resources – the kind of resources that can be extracted from a population of people who are vulnerable or in debt. Yes, they probably were sacrificed in order to secure a certain amount of status with the national peers of Israel. And, as I mentioned before, it is always the children who suffer the most. Given the circumstances, I have no doubt that families were torn apart, or forced to work for extended periods of time in order to bring these perilous acts to a conclusion. And none of it was hidden from God – as Ezekiel goes into extreme detail.
All of this for what? Ezekiel compares Israel to a prostitute. However, there is a big distinction made. An actual prostitute expects payment for services rendered. Israel was paying their so called customers for the honor of being a prostitute in Ezekiel’s eyes. Quite backward, but neither situation being desirable in any form.
What is the message here then? The question to ask is why was the leadership of Israel so insecure that they believed they must pacify their peers, live up to imagined expectations of the very nations that they were in a position to influence in a positive way? It was a total desire to be popular, to be secure, to know and control the dynamics. None of that can be described as faith. Faith does not demand that the nations leadership be passive and uninterested players either. But it does demand that they listen to the voice of compassion, of justice for their citizens, that they hear the cry for fairness and have an openness to the guidance of the Spirit which often advices to Be Still, have patience, watch God at work, and err on the side of being mindfully charitable of and to your neighbor.
It is often said that the old testament is about an Angry and Vengeful God – one who is quick of temper and who offers no mercy of compassion. Over and over again, as I read Ezekiel, I see quite the opposite. Here, in these paragraphs, we see God patiently working with Israel and the other nations over generations, trying to move them into a better state; until a breaking point is reached and all forward progress has been lost. I see parallels between the parables of the Gospels and the pleas for social justice from the prophets.
Oh well, next blog will be on to the pronouncements of judgment in chapter 16. I’m sure that will be filled with all kinds of fun. And we will see if there is any hint of charity, mercy, or compassion left to be had.