Ezekiel blog: A new trilogy of Purple

These next three chapters of Ezekiel provide profound insight into the question of why the Book of Ezekiel in the first place.  These chapters beginning with Ezekiel 26 touch on some very contemporary issues that we face globally today. At the same time, we get some explanation as to why the judgments are pronounced so completely across the population of Judah and Jerusalem specifically during the Babylonian conquest.  Lets set the stage.

Three years after the beginning of the final siege on Jerusalem by Babylon, Ezekiel is given a new oracle regarding the fate of a nation very close to Israel and Judah. It’s not good news either.  Ezekiel chapter 26 begins a small trilogy section on the nation of Tyre.   It goes sort of like this:

Chapter 26 (The brief and blunt pronouncement of Tyre’s fate) –> Chapter 27 (Poetic lament illustrating the finer points of the destruction of Tyre, and just why it is so sad) –> Chapter 28 ( A chapter pretty much dedicated to why the Israelites should care, and what message should they get out of this).

The phrase “like waves of the sea” is used to describe how destruction will come to the nation of Tyre. Now, in historical terms, Tyre is known to us as Phoenicia, the great trading nation of the Mediterranean Sea. So the ocean metaphor is appropriate, but it seems that there is a more practical intention for using that analogy of destruction.  It is often said that no man is an island; meaning that one who stands alone is very vulnerable. Phoenicia was no different and relied upon its extensive trading agreements and alliances to fuel its economic power, and ensure that it had strength to maintain its established domain. More importantly, because of its exuberant prosperity, other nations actively pursued a stable relationship with them. We could say it was a popular thing to do to foster a normalized trading relationship.  Therefore, it would seem that political and military threats were minimized.   To quote Billy Squire:  “….Everybody wants you”.

For destruction to be complete then, Phoenicia would have to become isolated and everyone turn away from them.  To coin another phrase, “…the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”  Phoenicia’s fall (Tyre’s fall) is great indeed. Over time they are invaded by Babylon for 12 years. Alexander the Great’s campaign burns the city and isolates what’s left of them onto their last remaining island.  Egypt and Rome battle over what remains of the area until there is no more Tyre and eventually we are left with what is today’s Lebanon.  So, there are your waves of the sea, one invasion come sweeping in after another.

But why should Ezekiel care?  He’s sitting in the middle of the Babylonian desert along with the thousands of other Jewish captives…over 550 miles away as the crow flies. Not to mention that his entire focus is pretty much on the spiritual condition of his own people and the dire warnings about his own nation’s impending collapse.

Further, why should we care that Ezekiel cared?

The answer to these questions is indeed critical.  It brings perspective to much of what Ezekiel spends so much of his time criticizing the Jerusalem government about.  In the next three blog entries, I’ll go further into this impactful section of the Book of Ezekiel where we will discover a range of socio-economic factors that can be traced directly to the conditions of social injustice that ultimately lead to the downfall of Jerusalem.  It will become painfully obvious as well that, because of these three chapters in Ezekiel, the content and warning of the Book of Ezekiel, is extremely contemporary and revealing into the nature of our culture today.

Next up, What’s it like “getting in bed” with neighboring sailors/businessmen and the ultimate example of “fair weather friends”.     Stay tuned.

 

Ezekiel blog: What comes around….

I’ve made it to a new section of Ezekiel’s writing. I refer to it as the roll call of nations. It begins with Chapter 25 and a quick walk through judgements on Ammon, Edom, Moab, and Phillistia; clockwise around the nations of Judah and Israel.  Interestingly, it starts with the Ammonites, the very people that God warned the people of Israel about way back in the book of Judges during the recounting of the Exodus story, eg. don’t start worshipping their idols, etc.

Reading through this, at a high level, a couple of morals can be inferred; the chiefest of which is that God doesn’t seem to like it when people gloat over the misfortunes of others.

In short, however, all of these sub-chapters can be summed up with the phrase, “what comes around, goes around.”

Ezekiel blog: A heartbreaking death

Blogging my way through the book of Ezekiel has carried me to chapter 23.  This is the end of the whole sequence of visions and lessons that Ezekiel has been carrying in order to help his people realize the reality of events that have transpired, and what is about to happen to their beloved city of Jerusalem.  This chapter really marks a true division of the Book of Ezekiel in terms of the theme of what is being presented.

So how is this marked? What is the division?

It starts with God telling Ezekiel to make note of this specific date which is interpreted as January 15, 588 BC.  This is the date that the actual all out seige has been laid around the walls of Jerusalem. It is no longer a boogy-man of the future, something that may happen. It’s real, it’s now.  To describe it, Jerusalem is described as a cooking pot put on the fire. Whatever is in the pot winds up getting roasted.  And this is described as a formal “Woe” to the city of bloodshed.  City of bloodshed is a far cry from a lantern on a hill.

Even in this imagery, the stubborness of the leadership of the city is brought to our attention yet again. The poetic verse talks of cooking all of the pieces of meat down until they are charred and burned leaving an encrusted deposit on the cooking pot. If you’ve ever had to scrub out cast iron pans after frying up some kind of meat for dinner, you know how that can be really hard to get clean.  To me this is the same message that Frank Fools Crow, a great Lakota spiritual leader, once discussed in a book interview.  He referred to those who choose to follow the sacred ways as ‘hollow bones’ which allow the Spirit to flow to the community.   A life of prayer and sacrifice was necessary to help clear out everything that tends to get in the way of the flow of Spiritual blessings.

In the second poetic section, the pot is placed directly on the hot coals until the copper glows with heat.  That is not successful either, even in this extreme circumstance.  God is quoted as saying, “….it has frustrated all efforts, and the deposit still remains….”   Ezekiel is telling us that God is frustrated by the way Jerusalem can not seemed to be cleaned out.  I’m not sure that ascribing the human negative emotion of Frustration to God and declaring that to be God’s primary impetus of action for this event is accurate.  However, I can not fault Ezekiel for trying to interpret and explain how God is viewing a situation of human creation.

But the emotion described here is an effective transition for the heartbreaking event that is to come next.  And it is one of the few times that Ezekiel drops back into first person.  God tells him that he is about to take Ezekiel’s wife from him – the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes.  This is to happen that same evening. No one, especially Ezekiel is to outwardly morn the passing of his wife.  This is to symbolize the way that God will not be morning the destruction of Jerusalem, and by way of example, the people in captivity are not to mourn either.  Literally, there was nothing of value there, nothing that was good, so there is no need to keep pining away in hopes of returning to the good old days back in Jerusalem.

This is such a stark contrast to how Jesus remarked on Jerusalem as he approached that great city in later years.  In Luke 19:41-44 we are told that Jesus wept and mourned the coming destruction of Jerusalem (once again for the same reasons Ezekiel was describing).  In other verses, Jesus calls out his ultimate desire to gather the people of Jerusalem together like a hen gathers her chicks.  It is regret that we are confronted with, a regret that stems from a man made situation for which there seems to be no remedy.

And so, this entire cycle of prophetic council ends in the silence of death, for at this time, there was no message of anything to come beyond that.