Ezekiel Blog: Beyond reproach

One of the things that drew me to the Book of Ezekiel is that his writing comes from a very unique situation and viewpoint in terms of the credentials of his office.  I’ve touched on this before, but here in Chapter 20, this becomes critically important.  To put it  simply, Ezekiel breaks the mold, but in such a way that is completely verifiable.  As a result, we get taken into some very uncharted waters.    Let me show you…

As I mentioned in the last blog, Ezekiel has expanded his prophetic theme to include not just a re-interpretation of the Exodus story, but also an extension into the period of the Judges – the next step in the growth of Israel.  One of the evidences of this is the retelling of Israel pre-history.  Book of Judges chapter 6 tells the story of one Gideon who was a Judge of Israel. When the elders of Israel came to him to complain about the overall situation of life, Gideon launches into the following Oracle from God:

“When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

So far, that jives with what we know from the Book of Exodus.   However, when the elders of Israel in captivity come before Ezekiel to complain about the overall situation of life, Ezekiel delivers the following:

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I chose Israel, I swore with uplifted hand to the descendants of Jacob and revealed myself to them in Egypt. With uplifted hand I said to them, “I am the Lord your God.” On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands. And I said to them, “Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

“‘But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

This is a very different account of the days of Exodus.  In what way is it different?

1.  Ezekiel says that God revealed himself to the Israelites before he began the work of the plagues.  The Book of Exodus maintains that God revealed himself through the plagues and then called Israel out to the desert so that he could meet with His people.

2 Ezekiel says that Israel was told not to worship the Idols of Egypt.  Gideon says they were told not to worship the Idols of the Amorites.  Exodus does not mention it.

3. Ezekiel says that the people rebelled and held tight to their idols (“…nor did they forsake the idols…”), the ones they were already worshipping in Egypt.  Gideon does not mention this, and version we have from Exodus maintains the purity of Israel – which is why they were spared the Angel of Death.

What does this give us then?   It gives us three different versions of the Exodus story, plainly printed for all to read.  Two of these versions begin with the phrase “This is what the Lord says…”.   This should immediately present a problem to those who hold to the argument that the Bible was literally “dictated” by God in it’s current form.   You can see in the two examples above where God is “dictating” two different stories.

Before I go any further, I want to explicitly state that this is not an attack on the authenticity of the scripture that we find in the library we know today as the Bible; more specifically the Old Testament. On the contrary, having somewhat of a mystical streak myself, I find this is actually more engaging to my soul – a more fertile ground upon which to meditate on the wonders of the works of God.   To me, because it is not exact, means that man had to struggle and still must struggle to understand what God is about. But I digress….

So, why did I name this blog entry “Beyond Reproach” ??   Well, to put it bluntly, Ezekiel wasn’t some hairbrained maniac come down from the hills, he wasn’t a country hick, or worse yet, a lesser prophet.  This man was a fully trained and practicing priest decended from the proper families of priesthood. This means that he was fully apprenticed, studied and versed in ALL scripture and books of the law …..especially including the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).  Ezekiel, like all priests, was trained to memorize the Torah and pass it down from generation to generation orally. The oral tradition is an established fact.

In short, Ezekiel is a very unique prophet, with an impressive set of credentials that are absolutely beyond reproach.  So how could he get this wrong?  I don’t think he did get this wrong.  Once again, it is the job of the prophet to speak to the truth of the situation and to reveal a deeper, more complete picture of what God is doing that man may or may not be aware of.  From Ezekiel’s perspective, or any true prophet, it is God who must be worshipped with faith, not a book or a statue or a building, etc. Faith needs no monuments to itself and neither does God.

And, I daresay, neither does this book, for it is a work of faith as well.

As I read through this amazing sacred text, I am struck again and again by the fact that so much of Ezekiel gets swept under the rug or dismissed outright. It’s a wonder that it remains in the Bible canon as we have it today instead of being edited out like so many other sacred books.  Honestly, several of the commentaries dismiss most of these chapters from 18-22 as mere repetitions of judgments pronounced earlier.  But you have to ask yourself, why would Ezekiel (or his followers and scribes) do that. It’s not like resources were easy to come by while in captivity and the law of minimums says that you do what ever it takes to complete the task, but only what it takes. So repetition for repetition’s sake, to me, seems like a lightweight way to blow off this content without really digging in to see what God is about.  Faith takes work, discipleship takes diligence.  Either that, or many feel the message is just too obscure to make out, so they head on to easier works.

I submit that the messages contained here in Ezekiel chapter 20 are neither repetitious nor irrelevant to the object of our current social conditions. They are here and now the same issues faced by Ezekiel’s own people.  The spirit of vision which lifted Ezekiel’s stylus to papyrus or tablet is quite different from the effort of today’s man to stifle and contain that same spirit of prophecy by heralding the merits of a one size fits all interpretation of scripture.  We, today’s people are not Moses, and therefore should not have the expectation that God will dictate scripture to us, just for our benefit alone, and hand it to us in a single bound volume known as the Bible. That would just be arrogant.  It shows a startling lack of faith if scriptural exactness is the test-of-the-day in order to justify a daily belief in the concept of a just God.

Ezekiel wasn’t hung up on scriptural exactness, and he was a person really hung up on precision and detail. He was beyond reproach.  So  maybe, if an in-exact scripture was OK for this prophet, this priest, this man of God beyond reproach, maybe we can ease up and not be so hung up on the manmade need for an inerrant scripture.

I am almost done with Chapter 20 of Ezekiel. There are just a couple more points to touch on next time and then I can move on to Chapter 21.





Ezekiel Blog: Who is the hero?

Ezekiel 20 (which I’m about to go into here) and Ezekiel 21 are about countering the agenda of the established leadership of the Jews in captivity. Most people (commentaries) focus on the term judgment and think this is more about condemnation, hellfire, etc. That’s not really what is going on here. Let me explain.

In the very beginning of chapter 20, we are told that the ‘certain’ elders of Israel came before Ezekiel for the purpose of inquiring of the Lord. Well, what does that mean? It was a common practice of the other religions around that area of the world to have a special place of Oracles. It was even adapted by the Jews while wandering in the desert. In that case, questions of legal or spiritual nature were brought to Moses and posed before the Ark of the Covenant. Since they don’t have the Ark any more, it is presumably still in Jerusalem at what’s left of the Temple, the Elders are attempting to operate under some new rules; or rather go back to some very old ways of doing things. To understand this further, we have to go back to a very old book in the Old Testament, we have to go back to the book of Judges.

Here is what Harpers Bible Dictionary (p.515) has to say about the general theme of the book of Judges,
“…[Judges] articulates the evaluation of the period that pervades the book:
* Cycles of Idolatry
* Divine Punishments
* The appeal for Divine aid
* Emergence of a savior figure
* Period of rest when people were ruled or judged by the heroic savior”

Well the first two bullet points definitely sound familiar in the context of Ezekiel and the impending destruction of Jerusalem.

Judges speaks of a time in Israel’s history when it was a wild frontier and a spritual homebase had not been established. The country’s boundaries were still in great dispute with other nations in the area, and the people were in great duress. Great leaders, often with prophetic vision, arose to lead the armies of Israel to victory over their enemies and over their captors. These leaders/prophets/warriors, were called Judges.

You can see where this is going right? The elders think that because their nation is once again displaced, that they need to revert back to that ancient system – that or totally convert to the local religious practices due to peer pressuer. (That is addressed later.) And for that, they will need some sort of a savior figure.

So, here is Ezekiel, full of heavenly vision, courageously speaking the judgements of God, and charismatically gathering the view of the general population. All that is left is the warrior element, the inspired general who will lead them in battle against Babylon and take back their precious Jerusalem.

Of course, God sees through that right away. We are given a HUGE clue early in the chapter when God asks Ezekiel (emphasis on “asks”) if he will judge Israel. Now, most commentaries immediately leap into action at this point trying to show how this is about to unfold as a courtroom drama with God characterized as some sort of heavenly prosecuting attorney. I think this is way off and missing the point entirely. God wants Ezekiel to fulfill the role of Judge as a means of doing a role-reversal against these specific leaders of Israel.

Why should we care about that? In order to understand, we have to look at the outstanding processes of events in Judges. The Judges do such things as
1. retell the story of Israel as a nation
2. Plead for deliverance
3. Bring prophetic vision
4. Lead the armies in a Divine campaign against the enemy
5. Deliver the people from overwhelming odds.
6. Tell their story in poetic form

You will see how item 1, item 3, and item 4 play a big part in this role reversal.

In any case, Ezekiel has shifted the framework from purely Exodus to a greater context of the National origin story. Other parallels will begin to appear in the next couple of chapters as well. Regardless, the point is that we see again how TRUE prophecy moves beyond simple foretelling. Here we are allowed to see the how God sees through the facades presented to him by presumed religious leaders, or anybody for that matter, and reads the motives of the heart. Ezekiel is to speak to to that, to the truth of the situation. And we will see how his other duties continue to expand.

I had to read this section a couple of dozen times for it to finally start resonating with me. It’s a feeling I’ve felt personally many times. A person, carrying vision, or a message, or a will to serve, is confronted by external expectations of behavior and role fulfillment. Pastors get this all the time, well, at least the ones who are starting small ministries. Ordained members of priesthood orders definitely get this all the time. But even worse, the general membership, those who step out and want to try making a difference, suddenly get all kinds of peer pressure, or under-cutting by others , often falling victim to local politics, and eventually giving up. I just saw a new article about a trend of pastors quitting. It’s hard to live up to. And here we see the same thing addressed in prophetic scripture as a primary failing that must be addressed. Must be a pretty big deal if a major prophet of God focuses some attention on it. It’s worth thinking about – just how much ministry gets stifled. Have you corrected a pastor or minister because you thought that person was interacting with the wrong kind of people? Have I put an unfair expectation on a volunteer minister? What have we done to those who carry a burden for the Lord?

Well, that gets us through the first couple of verse of Chapter 20. Next, things really get turned upside down from a scriptural point of view as Ezekiel chapter 20 begins to unfold.