Ezekiel blog 65: Chapter 45’s fairness failsafe

Ok. I admit it. Ezekiel chapter 45 is definitely boring…unless you happen to be an accountant living in occupied Mesopotamia 586 B.C.

It is exactly this level of minutia that should convince even the most ardent critic that Ezekiel was the master of minutia. This being the case, it is easy to make the argument that Ezekiel’s foremost concern was demonstrating that the visionary ideals could be attained via very practical detail. For example, lets go back to the measurements of the gates and doors.  He measures every single door and reports them to be the same instead of assessing one door and the just telling us they are all the same.  Detail.  Oh, and he tells us exactly what he is using to measure everything and exactly how it is different from normal measuring tools. Detail.  Boring detail, but completely the opposite of some mythological Temple to arrive on its own thousands of years in the future.  Ezekiel was about the here and now, the attainable, and the current hope of his people.

In chapter 45, Ezekiel runs us through an exhausting exposition of a fair weights and measurement system.  This would be the primary tool of exchange for their recovering economy once the captive Israelites were able to return to their homeland.  That being the case, it had to be fair.  No manipulating the system for the benefit of those in power. No cheating some people. No favoring some people. No privileged and less-privileged people.  This is what Ezekiel is hammering out when he states God’s command in verse 10, “…Stop dispossessing my people.” They are to use accurate scales, weights, baths (for measuring liquids), etc.

This chapter is meant to be a failsafe catchall to prevent against a very real human weakness: the corruptibility of power. Power corrupts unless you have the ability to have outside transparency.  And so we have chapter 45.

 

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Ezekiel blog 64: Prose of fidelity

In Ezekiel chapter 44, Ezekiel is told to “…look carefully, listen closely, and give attention….”  where the entrances of the Temple are specifically mentioned.  It’s an odd place to start this chapter, but touches on a theme of this whole second section of Ezekiel’s vision.  That theme is fairness, equality, and justice.  Notice the very first 3 verses speak about the rule which seals the East gate shut at all times, and then notes the one exception in the case of the Prince.  This exception is called out several times in the surrounding chapters.  There are specific rules about this exception meaning that the Prince is not above the law either, which is justice.

In verse 4, Ezekiel shares with us that he finally gets to see the Temple filled with the Glory of the Lord and he falls to the ground. You can only imagine how overcoming it is for Ezekiel to finally see the completion of his vision, to see that place become truly holy.  It is a pure place, an undefiled place of prayer, offering and sacrifice.  And it is in this that we gain clues as to what the next several verses are about.

Ezekiel is called to pay attention to the entrance to the Temple and all of the exits. Recall that in earlier chapters we were given exact measurements and specifications for these doors and that Ezekiel was taken to each gate to verify that each gate was the same.

Why?  What does that say?

As mentioned earlier, it is a theme of fairness. There is no special door. There is no gate that is higher and bigger than another, which means that there isn’t a gate for the privileged and another gate for the not-so-privileged.  There is equal access to the priests and alter of offering.  The exception is the Prince who is given permission to pray from the East gate. But, that being said, the Prince is to enter by either the North gate or South Gate – just like every one else. Additionally, the Prince has specific offerings which are required. In other words, Royalty is not allowed to come in with a boat load of offerings, large and conspicuous, and thereby shame the poor pilgrims bringing their humble offerings as they can afford.

In Ezekiel’s view, fairness and justice are essential elements of purity and holiness.  Now, in verse 7 and 8 we get a direct, no exceptions, diagnosis of what went wrong with the first temple.  “.. In addition to all your other detestable practices, you brought foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh into my sanctuary, desecrating my temple while you offered me food, fat and blood, and you broke my covenant. Instead of carrying out your duty in regard to my holy things, you put others in charge of my sanctuary.” 

Stop. Hold it right there. This is one of the most misinterpreted sentiments expressed in prophetic writing. This is not, not, an endorsement of racial purity as a measurement of religious faithfulness. Yet human nature sadly seems to carry people to this conclusion over and over again.  In Ezekiel’s case, he defines foreigners as people who are uncirmcumcised in heart and flesh.  Notice that Ezekiel places ‘heart’ above flesh.

He also defines the act of desecration for us with the line, “…you put others in charge of my sanctuary.”  That’s right, as discussed in earlier chapters, the leadership of the Temple, outsourced the very ministry of the temple. Contracted ministry, rather than the purity of service from the heart. When they did this, they placed the practice of worship on a lower priority than the practice of management.  This opened the door to the deals and contracts that allowed other religions (idol worship) to seep into the hallways and chambers of the original temple. That practice of sidelining sacred duty of enabling offering, sacrifice and prayer of the people is the desecration that Ezekiel is describing.

So this has nothing to do with purity of race – not at all.  It is a pity that the Israelites returning to the demolished city of Jerusalem after 70 years fell back to the base human nature and excluded other peoples  from participating in the reconstruction of the temple as described in Ezra chapter 4.  I write a criticism of human weakness, a decision made by those specific individuals to say, “No, this is only for us.”  Sadly, this mantra is oft repeated in our contemporary society – exclusion comes too easy to us.

Ezekiel foresaw this human weakness and gave specific instruction in Verse 9. This puts to rest any notion that Ezekiel was advocating anything other than faith and purity of heart – not racial or national exclusion.  He reiterates that the laws of faithfulness apply equally to everyone,….including “…the foreigners who live among the Israelites.”  Ezekiel’s vision of a place as holy as the new temple would be a tremendous draw for others seeking their faith.

The temple depicted in this series of Ezekiel’s vision is not to be construed as some kind of end-of-days, millennium temple. That would make the realization of this vision a benefit to people thousands of years in the future, providing little incentive for hope or salve for the immediate needs of his people .  For Ezekiel, this was a vision of a right now Temple – of an achievable dream for his people. It was something to give them hope during their captivity.  Ezekiel’s temple was a place of social justice, a hope for his people enduring an unjust occupation and captivity.

Getting back on track, the remainder of the chapter is used to define the roles and activity of the newly purged priesthood structure. Much of this content reveals a return to simplicity among those responsibilities compared to what was previously described in the Pentateuch.  However, the last major point of this chapter is the reinforcement of the idea that the Levitical priesthood will have no property ownership rights. They are to own nothing of themselves, but live entirely off the offerings of the population.

How does that provide a benefit? Why is that important?  It means that there can be no hierarchy of status based on wealth.  You can’t buy your way into good graces of service, you can’t grant your way into absolution by gifting property. You can’t establish landmarks of ownership and thereby create a sense of importance which could translate into a last legacy.  It prevents the problem of someone having an overriding opinion or viewpoint simply because they are rich and able to “contribute to the cause” more so than someone else.

Ezekiel’s visionary policy prevents another  problem of ministers flashing their accumulated wealth as some kind of validation that they are living correctly, and everyone else is somehow weak in the faith. Ezekiel addressed that decidedly false doctrine back in Ezekiel chapter 11, as discussed in my blog entry: https://inopencountry.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/ezekiel-blog-thats-entitlement-for-ya/

As stated at the beginning, this chapter draws awareness to Ezekiel’s overall insistence on fairness, humanity, humility, social justice and equality.

 

Ezekiel blog: Temple video – rooms for all the offerings

temple-and-roomsThis is the third video tour of the temple complex described in Ezekiel’s vision as recorded in Ezekiel chapter 42. Animated tour is done using Minecraft to build a 1/4 scale replica (or as close as can be rendered using Minecraft tools.).

Here is the video link: https://youtu.be/bP2f4Ugf33k

In chapter 42 Ezekiel shines a light on what is probably the central most important aspect of building (rebuilding) the temple for his people who are in bondage. What is important to Ezekiel in his vision is the primary function of having a place to bring offerings, make sacrifices, and pray.  That is what the Temple’s primary purpose is – nothing else.  Having the Temple serve other roles is what got the people of Jerusalem into trouble in the first place.

Offerings, sacrifices, and prayer. That is the central focus, the core foundation of the faith to which Ezekiel is calling his people to return.  For us today, one could tag this with the oft repeated axiom, “keep it simple,…”

Everything about the construction of the Temple complex, the layout of the gates, the guards for the gates, the resident priests, the rooms for pilgrimage travelers to stay, rooms for the offerings, and special priests to manage and assist with each of these offerings.  That is the purpose of priesthood. That is the purpose of all of this structure, to assist the people with their personal journey.

It is as Ezekiel says, to create a divide between the common and the sacred, this place was created.  So that the people can come away from the common, it was to be a place to approach the sacred, and to pray.

Notice that ultimately, it is the prayer, sacrifice, and offering of the people who have come that is enshrined, not those who hold office or title.

 

 

Ezekiel blog: My version of the end of the world Part II

PhoenixFireEzekiel 39.  In this chapter, Ezekiel, the Prophet of a subjected people,  brings us full circle back to the primary thought of his entire 25 years of prophetic experience.  This is the chapter that is supposed to describe the final battle of Gog and Magog.  A battle that is supposedly referenced in other apocalyptic works such as Revelations.  However, reading this chapter reveals that Ezekiel’s primary focus was on a completely different goal, something other than a triumphant play-by-play of a sensational battle.  In fact, the true goal of the chapter, and the previous chapter 38, is clearly stated in Verse 7 where Ezekiel writes, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned.”  Interesting that it is verse 7 no less – more on that later on.

“How can you say that?!”, you protest.  After all, the very first verse of the chapter 39 is directing Ezekiel to prophesy against Gog, saying that God was against him….whoever he was, chief prince of this land and that. That must mean that an actual literal person was being described. Which also means that a literal actual battle is being described, right?

Um, no. Not quite. Looking at verse 17, Ezekiel is also directed to prophesy to all the birds of the air and wild beasts, calling them to a feast.  In fact, Ezekiel uses the key word of ‘assemble together’ which was discussed in my last blog entry as being the functional opposite of the word Gog.   This is a poetic analog to let the people of Israel, who were currently in bondage in Babylon, that they would be free to gather, coming together in a sacred way, to ‘assemble’, which is the key to the word ‘synagogue’.   In other words, the call was to go out to all the people both free and bond that it was time to come back to the faith. That resurgence of faith, the return to the practice of the true religion, would have very prominent sacred demarcations.

Firstly thought, lets deal with Ezekiel Chapter 39, verse 2.  This verse corresponds to verse 4 in chapter 38.  Both of these verses refer to a very brutal, old world way of steering horses by use of a primitive bridal.  Hooks in the mouth are effective and unmerciful ways of controlling an animal such as a horse.  The imagery here is that there was no choice about the matter on the part of the ‘hordes of nations’ that were being gathered.  Everything that had happened and was about to happen were at the discretion, permission, and direction of God.

Now this flies in the face of the prominent theories today about these chapters of Ezekiel where is it considered a description of the final battle for mankind.  Embedded in that theory is the idea that this bad and awful army will assemble of their own accord, out of the hatred I their hearts and come for the sacred people who will be surrounded.  These people will be outnumbered, but react (be reactive) to the impending threat. This motivates them to a righteous battle (whatever that is supposed to be) where God comes swooping in and makes them all invincible mega-warriors that end up dominating the scene resulting in an almost total annihilation of consummate bloodshed. Somehow this slaughter is looked up with glee and joy by God as a validation of holiness.

At this point you should be scratching your head and wondering how any of that could possibly make any sense as it is completely inconsistent with anything written in the gospels, the writings of the apostles, the Psalms, the Proverbs, Jeremiah, or the Torah.  A Christian reader should immediately spot the contradiction of the supposed necessity of a great sacrifice of blood on the mountain of Israel, a sacrifice by God, to be made after the advent of a risen Christ, who was to be the ultimate sacrifice of blood for the whole world. It does not make sense. Sorry, this entire book is not a foretelling of an impending zombie apocalypse.

No.  Quite the contrary, God is allowing the nations to come with their religions, just like they did the first time when the temple was polluted with idolatry.  He’s drawing them all to a first row seat where his holiness will be validated by a return to faith by his people. They will abstain from their unfaithful practices of the past even though the nations have come to lure them, and the religions of these nations will fall in defeat on the mountain of Israel (otherwise known as places of sacrifice within the temple).   In Ezekiel’s message, God wants to confront the false religions of the world, the ones that lead his people away with idol worship, so that He can make his name Holy in the eyes of Israel, and before the world as well.    It is a message that is much more consistent with the message of all these other sacred and prophetic writings.

What sacred demarkations would herald such an movement then?   Where do we find these clues in Ezekiel’s writings?

In Verse 3, Ezekiel states that God, not God’s army, will strike the bow and the arrow from the right and left hands of Gog – who has become God’s horse temporarily. In other words, God had turned Gog into a tool to be used and the impressive instruments of intimidation have been knocked to the ground. Why? Because true faith can not be spread by oppression and intimidation.  Following this, there is a reference to fire in Verse 6. Fire is an analogue of prayer and sacrifice as sacrifices are burned.  This is confirmed in verses 18 and 19 where the defeated hosts of the oppressive false religions are consumed as sacrifices. Incidentally, this is also a confirmation of a non-literal aspect of this entire chapter for no true Prophet of God would condone or encourage cannibalism as this does not glorify God. Yet that is what these verses would indicate. Clearly, these are again poetic analogies, images used to convey a spiritual overtone to the conflict.

It is a well documented historical fact that Hebrew culture embraced elements of numerology – the practice of ascribing significance and meaning to various key numbers. In other words, numbers were used to convey shades of color about places, people, points in time.  It is a vast topic beyond the scope of this paper. However, at the risk of over-simplification, two very prominent numbers are well known in Prophetic writing: the number 6 and the number 7.  The number 6 is meant to represent that which is the opposite of perfect, what western culture describes as evil. The number 7 is used to describe perfection or holiness, western culture calls this good. Terms such as “Seventh Heaven” are derived from ancient beliefs of an ascendancy to greater levels of perfection defined as heavens until the 7th level of ultimate perfection is reached.

“Seven” is all over the 39th Chapter of Ezekiel, starting with Verse 7, as mentioned above, where Ezekiel declares the purpose of the chapter, which is to make known God’s holy name. The number seven is used to indicate that knowledge of God’s name is a sign of perfection.

Verse 9 continues with a statement that it will take Seven years to burn up all of the weapons that are gathered from the defeated conglomeration of Gog and Magog.  And, once again the reference to fire, things being burned in the fire, is a reference to sacrifices being burned on the alter.  Seven years of ridding the land of every tool that was used to advance the false religions which had overrun the land of the Hebrews.  Not so unimaginable as all that since by the time the Israelites returned from their captivity in Babylon, it would have been 70 years absence.  Nevertheless, seven years of purification of the land, another sign of perfection – that God’s redemption of the people and the land is perfect.

Ezekiel continues this theme in Verse 12 by saying it will take Seven Months to bury all the bodies of the fallen.  He indicates they will do this ‘to make the land clean again’.   So the number seven (months) used to indicate a process of cleansing, for according to the books of the Torah, it was unclean to leave bodies laying about. Are these real human remains, possibly. In some cases, very likely. But everything else has been symbolic, why should not the reference of human remains be symbolic as well, just as the story of the Valley of the Bones was also symbolic?

To me, God’s battle has always been against false religions that steal away truth, that pervert justice, that enslave hearts and souls, and lead his cherished people to dark areas of idolatry. That is the wolf he warns of encircling his flock. God has never cared about this general or that. God never advised that a King be appointed in Israel in the first place, much less anywhere else.  Ezekiel speaks to this in Verse 11 with a single eloquent sentence, “ Gog, at that time I will bury you in a grave in Israel.” It is one of the more remarkable times that God is characterized as speaking directly to something or someone other than the prophet. God wants to bury unbelief in a grave in the newly consecrated ground of Israel, a place made holy, as Holy as His name.

It’s easy, when reading this chapter to think that these verses are about retribution, or even vengeance. But that has not been the way of God, nor the intent of His wishes during this message.  Ezekiel reveals a truer look into the mind of God  in verse 22 and 23. To summarize, (My) People of Israel will know me AND the Nations will know.  Verse 23 & 24 answers WHY this was all done: They (Israel) were not faithful to God. They were unclean. They did many things which were wrong. So God turned his face away.   This is key.  The message embedded in all this imagery is directed FIRST at the Hebrew people so that they can understand their choices had consequences that were being played out. Those consequences were designed to bring them back to a remembrance of their true faith, so that they would know God and keep His name Holy.  It was directed at them. This is the core of Ezekiel’s mission, which is why these two chapters are so intensively tied to Ezekiel’s core message and not to some trendy and fashionable super-army-takes-on-the-world fantasy.  Ezekiel could care less about that.

Further, if this supposed end-of-all-things battle was really the climax of the book of Ezekiel’s writings, then logically, the book should end right there. If this was the final message, there would be no need to continue on. But in the larger scheme of Ezekiel’s writings, the story of Gog and Magog are really only a small blip – two rather average chapters.  Ezekiel spent more time describing the relationship between Israel and Tyre. The book of Ezekiel continues on beyond this segment to his real climactic ending in the final 10 chapters. (that’s ten whole chapters) following this segment.  That’s where the fulfillment of his vision is described in exacting detail.

Just as wonderfully, the message of Ezekiel in this immediate chapter, 39, goes way beyond redemption of Israel. It goes beyond simple recovery of a piece of land.  Also included in the idealized statements of the state of holiness and perfection that has been worked upon the recovered people of Israel is a missional statement.  Verse 27 holds this additional value to the entire effort when God states, “And I will use them to prove to many nations how holy I am.”   Ah, the many nations. They have seen that their ways do not last and have no power. In Ezekiel’s mind, they will also see the truth and come to wonder.

As I said before, these chapters are about sacredness, purity of faith, redemption, and most of all Hope.

My version of the end of the world has no end. Just hearts trying to learn something new and giving up on stuff that just doesn’t do anybody any good.

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog: My version of the end of the world, part I

OK, this section won’t be popular with many folks.  But hey, that’s what happens when we dismiss 1000 years of preconceived notions and assumptions, things that have been handed down that you and I are just supposed to accept.   The biggest assumption is that Chapters 38 and 39 are the climax of the book, and that the remaining chapters are just add on material – usually relegated to the category of “boring stuff”.  I have an alternative view of Ezekiel’s message through these chapters which challenges the established assumptions.

Alternative answers come from alternative questions. My questions are:  what was Ezekiel’s main reason for going through all the hassle of being a prophet to a people in bondage?  What was his raison d’etre? What did he think about night and day? What was his central mission?

You might say that it’s a little late in the run through of the Book of Ezekiel to consider these questions, particularly since we are sitting on the door step of Chapter 38 and 39, the description of the supposed final battle.  However, I believe this to be the essential key to the entire book, the entire mass of Ezekiel’s writings, which is why we’ve used this as a framework, the lens through which we’ve examined his work.  It certainly helps explain most of the book up to these two chapters, as well as the remaining 10 chapters that conclude the book, which chapters are the real climax of the story.  I think the question applies clarity to chapters 38 & 39 equally as much, the chapters the tell of Gog and Magog and the Battle of the Lord.

So to set up this discussion, we have a very strong set of NAMEs enter the writings of Ezekiel at chapter 38 and 39: Gog and Magog.  This is supposed to be the great leader of the far northern nations who builds a coalition of surrounding nations with the intent of attacking the newly re-established nation of Israel.  This new threat will succumb to the idea and intention of attacking a place without walls, and taking everything of value.  It is promised that the Lord will prevent their success, rain damaging attacks down on them, and ultimately preserve Israel in order to verify to the world the Holiness of His Name.

Sounds great, huh?!  You might be asking, “What is a Gog?” Excellent question and one the world has been speculating about for the last 1500 years…at least.  There are many, many interpretive theories ranging from practical to resoundingly absurd.  Most of these theories source from the preconceived theological or geo-political preferences of the authors.  A natural tendency, and very hard to overcome.

After reviewing many published viewpoints,  I have come to conclude that the majority of commentaries fall into the trap of believing that the Prophet Ezekiel was writing his oracles from a basis of seeking external validations. The assumption is that we can find some evidence of his prophecies “coming true” by looking at historical events as if the prophet was giving us a preview of upcoming events in news-ticker fashion.   It simply is not so and attempts to interpret from that standpoint fail every time.  It fails because that is not the true job of a prophet.

Take a closer look at  Ezekiel chapter 38 & 39.  Most people conclude that these are failed prophecies since they did not come true, or have not come to pass yet -thereby lending to the mythology that this relates to events far in the future.  In the face of these two accusations, some commentators grasp for the most obvious elements of the chapters in desperate efforts to identify which actual country fits the bill for MaGog based on an ever bewildering set of criteria. There are many, many interpretive theories ranging from practical to resoundingly absurd.  Most of these theories source from the preconceived theological or geo-political preferences of the authors.  A natural tendency, and very hard to overcome. One extreme example of this can be found here: http://trackingbibleprophecy.com/gog_magog.php .  Scary stuff indeed.  Yet, way off and full of bias.  The thinking goes that if the countries can be identified, then theoretically a political leader can be identified who most resembles Gog as described.  This approach will continue to fail and readers will continue to be disillusioned because that is not what Ezekiel is talking about.

But, what if Gog is not a person?  After all, the word Gog is a noun and a noun can be a person, place or thing.  So,what if we change the assumptions and we work from the framework that Ezekiel did not care what we (here in our time, ages beyond Ezekiel)  thought about his unspecific references?  It leads me back to my original hypothesis to use Ezekiel’s core mission as a guide, a compass pointing the way.

Simply put, Ezekiel was a Priest of the temple. His mission was the same as a Rabbi today, which is to strengthen the faith of his people – to bring them to a closer remembrance of their faith through an identification with the story of their past. To do so, and throughout his writings, Ezekiel made references to key components of Jewish history eg. the Exodus story, the commandments, the law, the practices at the temple.  And being a highly educated Priest of the Temple, Ezekiel also used  a typical Hebrew practices of word play within his text.  For detail on that practice, refer to the following link, among many other resources that agree.

http://jewishstudies.rutgers.edu/docman/rendsburg/216-word-play-in-bh/file

Keeping that in mind, lets look at the actual words being used here and then I’ll suggest some other words to add into the mix. Here is the word GOG as written in the original Greek, and below it is the same word written in the original Hebrew.  Both languages are represented here because there are two original versions of Ezekiel, the Masoretic Text of Ezekiel, and the Septuagint version of Ezekiel. Each somewhat different from each other.

γώγ :  Γωγ Γὼγ Gog Gōg Gṑg   – Strongs Greek

גוג – Hebrew

You can see it is a three character word in all of the languages.  Magog is just a derivation of that as shown below.  In one translation, it means belonging of or coming from Gog.

Μαγώγ : Magog

These two words have a murky history – the etymology is not very clear.  Scholars mostly speculate about the meanings/translation because there is no specific origin language.   However, at least one discussion chooses a very simple approach and states that GOG refers to the top or apex of a roof.  Magog is derived from this and refers to that which is not the top of the roof – that which is under the roof or below the apex.   We will come back to this in a moment, this symbology is important. Humans tend to use very basic references to get an idea across.   Here is a link to that discussion:

http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Gog.html#.V0oyH4-cGM8

Let me now bring my two lines of thinking together, the word play component, the basic translation above, as well as some interesting points from chapter 38 verses 10-15.    Lets start with verse 11 where Gog is portrayed as saying, “…I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people—all of them living without walls and without gates and bars.”   This is a really strange verse.  It is strange because people, humans, always build walls – especially back then.  In fact, the very first thing the Hebrews did when they actually returned from exile was to start building the wall around Jerusalem.  We know this from reading the Book of Ezra and Book of Nehemiah.  So what was Ezekiel talking about?

To piece that together, we look at another word that originates from that time:

Synagogue : synagogue, also spelled synagog (pronounced /ˈsɪnəɡɒɡ/ from Greek συναγωγή

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synagogue

The translation of synagogue literally means ‘assembly’ or where the people gather, where people come and go freely.  Its a place where the true faith that Ezekiel envisioned would be practiced daily and where the entire community was invited on an equal basis (more on this later). Only a place without bars or gates to keep people out could be considered a place where Ezekiel’s people would be living in peace.

Notice that the word GOG is embedded in the word SynaGOGue.  So in a theological sense (which is what was most important to Ezekiel) these two words are opposites of each other.  Ezekiel’s use of Gog refers to a condition of having a single person elevated above all others eg. the “chief ruler” or “chief prince”,  the other means to have everyone assembling together in faith.  Hierarchy vs. Community, Elite vs. Accessible (no gates or bars), Arbitrary Single Authority pushed down on the masses (Magog) vs.  a Holy People true to the last person to the Justice and Holiness of God.    Chapter 38 verse 16 backs this up this play of opposites when Ezekiel writes, “In days to come, Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.”  As a further reference, Chapter 39 verse 17, Ezekiel even uses the word ‘Assemble’ along with its definition ‘come together’ from the Greek ‘syn’ (in synagogue) when he states “Assemble and come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you…”

Now lets look at another portion of this chapter which begs the question about identifying Gog as a specific person.   In Verse 17 Ezekiel writes, “You are the one I spoke of in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel.”  Exactly who have the prophets been talking about throughout Israel’s history?  Ezekiel, being a fully trained and educated Priest of the Temple would be intimately familiar with every single prophet that was ever revered within their religion.  However, the evil doer Gog is first mentioned only in Ezekiel’s writings.  Other people have had that name, but they hardly fit the billing as advertised in apocryphal writings, so it would seem that Ezekiel is not describing a specific person in a specific place and time. Yet Ezekiel is clear, this has been spoken of before.

He explicitly returns to this in Chapter 39: 7-8, writing, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel. It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord. This is the day I have spoken of.”

It seems there is another imbedded reference in the paring of Gog and Magog. it has long been established that the Idol worship religions of the entire region used the ‘High Places’ as places of sacrifice.  These are the very same high places that Ezekiel has railed against throughout this entire book.  Idolatry had invaded Hebrew way of life replacing their true religion. To speak of sacrifice in the afore mentioned verse (Chapter 39:17) is a direct reference to that. However, in this context, it is God declaring his victory over false religion and making their demise a sacrifice offering.  In case it isn’t clear, a high place, where the idol stands, where sacrifices are made, would be at the apex of a structure such as a Ziggurat which was a common structure through out the early Mesopotamian region for the Idol based religions – and thus Gog.  Ezekiel then defines Gog as the practice of Idol worship and sacrifice to false Gods, that being the chief ruler or chief prince, standing at the top of all the ruling dynasties of almost every nation surrounding Jersusalem (Magog – that which is not at the top but associated to it).   Ezekiel clearly defines God’s objective back in Chapter 38 vs 16, stating, ” In days to come, Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.”  This is a religious objective, not a military or political objective.

To sum up what we have so far then, Ezekiel’s message is one of hope to his exiled people, a people who are in bondage, a people who are mocked because of their religion. They are a tiny religious minority in a vast dominant culture of idolatry.  Dominant culture seems to have prevailed over their faith.  Ezekiel has gone to great lengths to explain why. He will do yet more explaining in the rest of Chapter 39. But true to the nature of his calling – a Priest of the Temple, a teacher, a religious leader, and a true Prophet of God – he speaks a message of hope, that the true way of Jehovah will overcome, that God’s name will be Holy again, and that only a complete purging of all these other false religions (Idolatry) will open the door to a renewal of their people.

The battle of Gog and Magog isn’t about a political/military conflict at the end of the world.  That would assume that God plays favorites among men and picks this ruler over that ruler and having a person win somehow makes God’s name Holy.  No. That doesn’t even work in highschool football when people pray for victory, etc.   God is interested in faith, faith of the community, and the open and free assembly of His people – those who choose Him.  No bars or gates to keep His people out, no high place to raise one above the many to accumulate human glory.  There is no final world battle – according to Ezekiel – only an accumulation of fervor for the nurturing love of God who has endured centuries of the profaning of His name by His own people.

Part II of my version of the End of the World will focus on Chapter 39 a bit more, and also focus on the How and the Why of the fall of Gog and Magog and how this builds us up to the real climax of the book of Ezekiel.

 

Ezekiel blog: Dem Bones – seriously – Dem bones

I’ve already touched on Ezekiel chapter 37 in the earlier 4 chapter bundle (chapters 36-39).  Again, there are just a few points I’d like to highlight for this chapter.  First we have to address the obvious reference in the title of this entry. Yes, the famous spiritual song “Dem Bones” was inspired by Ezekiel chapter 37.   (Please see this Wikipedia reference for detail: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dem_Bones ).

This has undoubtedly made this chapter one of the more famous chapters of Ezekiel’s writings.  What is interesting is that as a result of skipping the rest of the entire Book of Ezekiel and jumping to this chapter, some have taken the position that this chapter was intended to justify or validate the Christian theology of Life after Death.  Afterall, the chapter describes dry bones – human remains – being reanimated back to life.

However, this brings me back to one of the fundamental principles of the analysis model I’m using to work through Ezekiel’s writings; it brings me to where the name of this blog actually comes from.  I’m searching for free and open country, a place of thought that isn’t bound by assumptions arising from a pre-fabbed theological approach.  Assuming that this major Prophet, one of the four major prophets, of the Old Testament was concerned with outside or external validation is a critical mistake for any reader of prophetic work.

Ezekiel himself had one, maybe two, purposes for most of what he wrote; to give his people hope while in bondage, and to encourage them to return to their true faith.  This was not an exposition into resurrection theology as that was unknown to the Jews of that time period. It was not part of their religious world.

To presume the scope of this writing pertains to a religion other than that which Ezekiel was most familiar with (his own), would be in err.  For instance, suppose we have a reader of this chapter who believes that anytime winds blow from all four directions at the same time that the beholder is about to receive good fortune.  Then that reader comes across Ezekiel chapter 37 and reads the text about the winds breathing life back into the bones.  That reader could suppose that his personal religious views had just been validated.  A Christian reader would be dubious of that presumption. Even so, Christian readers must be careful not to presume the presence of their own theology.

Therefore, this passage about dry bones nothing to do with Christian theological views on the afterlife.  It has much more to do with justice in the face of persecution, and the eventual restoration of Israel as a unified nation to its sacred ancestral place.

From a ‘return to faith’ perspective this vision reminds the captives in bondage of their origins, the story of Genesis  (something that Priest of the Temple, like Ezekiel, would be trained to teach).  In Genesis, it is the Breath of God, the wind entering the body formed of earth, which brings to life Adam. Similarly, it was the Breath of God, or the wind, which separated the waters of the Red Sea, thereby providing  means of escape to the people of Israel and granting them life.   So Ezekiel draws them back to a remembrance of the power of the Breath of God and how it might pertain to them.

Lets also look at where these bones are….in a valley.  That is a very low place. That is where victorious armies throw the dead and vanquished – it’s not a place of honor. It’s not a battlefield.  These bones are not an army waiting to be returned to life as one commentary stated.   These are the bones of all who have been cast aside, those who have suffered from the injustices of the privileged elite of Jerusalem.  These are the bones of all who were carried far from their homes and find themselves wanderers in a strange land.

Freeing Israel from the bonds of their captivity, the graves into which they have fallen in the distant lands of their exiles is a message of hope to his people, to his fellow captives. It tells them that not only redemption is possible, but that justice is an aspect of God whom they worship. If they would only return to their true faith, then these qualities would reappear in God.  This is entirely consistent with Ezekiel’s overall purpose in writing from the very beginning of his book.

My last note for this chapters is that Ezekiel shows us pure nature of true prophecy: speaking the word of God, telling the mind of God. His examples do not include mystically venturing into forecasting remote events of far distant futures.   Ezekiel’s exact descriptions of his process and of his visions negates most commentaries viewpoints on the following two chapters of Ezekiel 38 & 39. I say ‘negates most commentaries’ because most of the opinions I’ve read have focused on time periods wildly beyond the scope of all of the rest of Ezekiel’s.  Ezekiel’s mission is that of a restorer of faith to a lost people – giving them something to believe in that affects their lives and the lives of their children.

More on this in the next chapter.

 

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog: Point of the Mountain

Although I’ve covered Ezekiel 36-39 as a block, there are a few individual tidbits that require a little extra coverage. So, I’ll handle each chapter briefly, each in a separate post.

At the point of Ezekiel 36, The people have been through the wringer.  Ezekiel has explicitly drawn the entire picture of the defeat of Jerusalem.  Blame, recrimination, dodging of responsibility, shady business deals, absence of social justice, even shallower faith, and what-about-the-Joneses – it’s all been covered.  Judgment. Has. Been. Served.   ….so, um, now what?

I’ve now reached the 4 chapters (Ezekiel 36-39) that seem to be the most complex and hardest to put into a framework.  They are very abstract.  Ezekiel chapter 36 finally turns the focus of discussion towards possible future actions of God, actions that could also benefit the former people of Jerusalem. For, finally, there is the promise of a restoration, a time of rebuilding, a time for when the land is no longer barren.

Ezekiel seems to be painting a future tense picture of hope and in doing so gets back to a secondary theme of this entire exploration:  a prophet reveals the nature (thoughts, viewpoint, methods, and expressions) of God.  A true prophet spends more time explaining the mind of God than mystically foretelling future events.

To get us – the reader – there, Ezekiel has to walk us through a major point: No matter the action or outcome, it’s all for God’s benefit.

The Oxford Bible Commentary  has this to say about the first part of Ezekiel’s sentiments in this chapter, “Whether punishing or forgiving, YHWH acts, not for Israel’s sake, but to protect the sanctity of His name.”  p.557 {36:16-38 YHWH’s honor restored}   I agree with this summation of Ezekiel’s intent, as this has been clear through out much of Ezekiel’s writing.  It is the way that God accomplishes this which leaves the captives in Jerusalem baffled. Even so, it is an important point to keep in mind – God acts for the benefit of his own interests.

Funny how many people of “faith” opt to approach their faith on the premise that God owes them something or can be wrapped into some kind of deal where He owes them something. I, personally tire of hearing long prayers that are some sort of logical exhortation where the invoker of the prayer details a litany of all the good works they (or their congregation)  have done and how they know that they will be rewarded, or “Blessed” as is commonly used today, as a result of their humble (yet somehow passive/aggressive) efforts, etc. etc. etc.  It’s a process oriented incantation – nothing more.   Lets face this truth together, shall we: aggressive attempts to control the outcome of intention is by definition, magick as defined by Aleister Crowley eg. “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will”.   This, strictly speaking, is not faith.

Ezekiel tells us, with explicit clarity, that God does not work that way.  It did not work that way for all the priests of the Temple who prayed devoutly for refuge or deliverance from destruction for themselves, but not for the general population. It did not work that way for all the Jews in captivity in the Babylonian dessert to have a speedy return to their homeland,…and their property.  It really did not work for the workers and in cantors of the the various cults that made their way into the sacred Temple hallways.

So, Why not?

Ezekiel tells us that God takes actions according to His own counsel, and whether it is for the immediate benefit, or Not a benefit, it is for the sanctity of His own name.   That is a hard concept to swallow.  In other words, you and I can not do anything which supersedes God’s own purposes. If He chooses to build up a people, a group, a church, or a single person, it is for His own benefit.  The reciprocal process is also true.  So, the best a person of true faith can do, is to align their efforts the direction that God is moving.

An additional point that Ezekiel makes, from a theological standpoint, is the confirmation of the idea of personal agency.  He writes that God would take actions involving the people now in bondage in Babylon that  would “Move” them to follow the law.  It is an interesting choice:  Move.   He did not say “Make you to follow”.    So, for God’s own purposes, and for his own sanctity of name, He wanted to MOVE the people to follow His law.   To move someone involves engaging the heart, inspiring that person to invest in a personally motivated action. They are moved.

…and God’s sanctity is preserved.   This is what Ezekiel is talking about in Ezekiel chapter 36.

Ezekiel blog: whiplash

The thing about coming to grips with Ezekiel chapters 36-39 as a set – so to speak – is to go back to the original foundation for this framework of understanding Ezekiel.  It is essential to remember that of all the Great Prophets, Ezekiel is unique, and as earlier established, well beyond reproach.  He is unique because he was formally trained to be a Priest of the Temple. That means he was able to recite from memory the entire Torah (first five books of today’s modern Bible).  He was extensively versed in all law (what eventually became the Mishnah) as well as completely familiar with the entire history of Kings and High Priests of Israel/Judah.  Ezekiel would have been intimately familiar with all temple practice, orthodox or otherwise, and would have also a pretty standard working knowledge of all “business” transactions, contracts, and covenants made within the walls of the temple and their impact on the government of Jerusalem.   Today, Ezekiel would be  PHD in Theology, with a double minor in political history and business law.  Quite a guy.

Why is that important when considering Chapters 36-39?  In order to answer that question, another question must be posed:  What would be the primary question that a formally trained Priest of the Temple be most interested in answering – especially to his people under armed occupation so far from their homeland and holy Temple?  What question would Ezekiel want to answer most of all?

In my mind, Ezekiel’s most challenging question to answer would be: What kind of God do we worship?

Think about it for a minute.  First of all, his people are held prisoner under armed guard and those guards worship a completely different god – or pantheon of gods. And they came to Jerusalem and conquered. It would appear that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was powerless to stop it.  Worse, it would seem from Ezekiel’s own words that the God they worshipped – those that did keep the faith – seemed to bent on their absolute destruction. So, why should these people put in the effort?  Why not change religions and go with the flow in Babylon? Afterall, Jeremiah had recommended that the people just go with Babylon, submit to their rule. Why hold the line on religion? Who is God and what can he do?

A priest of the temple would relish this question and answer it by telling a story, by painting a picture of hope.   This is key to understand chapters 36-39 because if we fall into lockstep with the majority of commentaries, we are faced with some very puzzling problems with the texts as written.  The problems become so evident, that many authors are forced into large circular paths of apologetics, or fall into a synchronized tactical narrative which portrays the prophet as as A.D.D. afflicted fortune teller crouched eagerly over his crystal ball.   This has the unfortunate side effect of  casting God – especially as described in the Old Testament – as capricious, fickle, and subject to whims of on-again-off-again affections much like a precocious preadolescent child.  In fact, it sounds very much like the type of god-like behavior we become accustomed to when studying classic Greek mythology.

Consider the following sequence of chapter 36-39 as told by Ezekiel:

  • Tomorrow – the mountains of Israel will grow again
  • Some time in the far future – an army of bones will rise into a real army
  • In a short while – the people will be restored to Jerusalem and Israel will be one
  • Some time way in the future – a great coalition of evil nations will rise and threaten Jerusalem
  • Once all that is done – the fortunes of Israel will be restored.EzekielTimeline

Did anyone besides me get whiplash from that?   Yeah, even with the pretty colors, this just doesn’t make any sense – especially to a bunch of displaced Hebrew civilians living under armed guard.

……….Unless you ask the right question….such as “What kind of God do we worship?”

Here we have Ezekiel, a priest of the temple, answering to his people

we worship a God who can heal the land back to a place of milk and honey – give food to his people like the manna of Moses time.
We worship a God who is capable of defeating death itself and raising the strength of his people
We worship a God who can restore his people, who will go searching for those that are lost and remembers each one
We worship the same God who defeated Pharaoh, and who defeated all the combined nations across the Jordan. He is the same God who will defeat the very worst we can imagine, if……if we stay true to our faith.
And…According to chapter 36, We worship a God who does all of this for His own reasons and for His own Namesake – which is a very interesting concept.

It was always Ezekiel’s mission to call his people back to a remembrance of their origins, to return back to their faith, and to send a message of hope. Chapters 36 through 39 provide answers to desperate questions arising from a crisis of faith.

In addition, these four chapters set up the finale of the book of Ezekiel which moves away from the troubles at hand to Ezekiel’s vision of religious perfection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus

Lost sheep

Lazarus

Prodigal son

 

 

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog: All the shepherds have gone astray

“The Sovereign Lord says: I, myself, will search for my sheep and look after them”.  This line from Ezekiel 34:11 is key to the entire concept of the coming of the Messiah which we celebrate each year at Christmas.  It is behind the whole idea of having a New Testament to compliment that which was written in the former “Old” Testament.  But where did this come from, and why?

Open the door (turn the page) to Ezekiel chapter 34 and you get the most carefully articulated description of the core problem which led to Jerusalem’s fall at the hands of the Babylonians. As always with Ezekiel, there are many layers to what he is trying to get across to his band of survivors in the desert.  But, one of those important tenants is ‘hope’, hope indeed for a people who feel lost, overwhelmed, and abandoned. Those emotions pulse with resonance to many of us today, living in a world of fear and distrust.

In the very first verse of this chapter, God calls out the leadership of the people of Israel – those entrusted with the care and management of the people, those to whom also is given the mantle of religious authority.  And the call out is not good as is stated in Verse 2:  “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?”

Now today, the word shepherd is applied mostly to religious leaders of some sort.  And given the rate of scandals that we are routinely subjected to from the religious elite, it would seem that this accusation is valid in this day and age, as much as it was valid in the days of the great prophets.  Indeed, the question stands – why are you only taking care of yourself?  Why are you demanding donations from the weak and the needy so you can equip yourself with mansions, cars, and private jets?     It makes you wonder if these people actually have ever read the same Bible from which they preach.   For, in this case, we are not stipulating a line item rule set – which is an incorrect approach to Biblical study.  We are examining a general principle as stated by the Creator in this pragmatic question: Should not the shepherds take care of the flock?

From Ezekiel’s point of view, at the time of his writing, it was common to apply the term shepherd to the governmental figures – often royalty – who were in charge of all aspects of the wellbeing of the people.  Read that again.  Shepherd meant Kings in charge, Government in charge, High Priests in charge. So if we are to examine Ezekiel’s prophetic guidance with an eye towards accuracy, then we must acknowledge that he was highly critical of abuses conducted by those persons in positions of power, who were enabled to work towards the benefit of the people, but chose to only benefit themselves – or worse, directly abuse the people for whom they were entrusted to provide benevolent care.  Again, we see that this human weakness is still among us, and we see the abuses by what we can refer to as the religious elite just as easily as we can observe the abuses by individuals in governmental power or administrative power.  These come under the common heading/category of social injustice for which the prophets held little back in their vocal criticisms.  (If you doubt this claim, take a look at Verse 16, “…I will shepherd the flock with justice.”)

So what were the shepherds supposed to be doing?  What was the primary hallmarks of their responsibility whether governmental, religious, or otherwise?  Ezekiel spares no time clearing that up in verse 4.  Ezekiel’s declares to those in power:

  • You were supposed to strengthen the weak.
  • You were supposed to heal the sick.
  • You were supposed to bind up (provide aid and relief to) the injured.
  • You were supposed to search for, and bring back, those who were lost.
  • You, the shepherds, were supposed to feed my sheep, not yourselves.

Remember Jesus’ admonition to Peter before his ascension?  “Feed my sheep”. He was quoting/referring to this very section of Ezekiel.

Then the accusation from God is stated in the form of a sorrowful lament in verse 6:  My sheep were scattered over the whole earth, and No One searched or looked for them.

That verse resonates with me, and I’m sure resonates with many who read them as well. To have that feeling of having once been part of a community, to have peace in your heart, and then to find yourself lost, lost to the point where you realize that no one is coming to look for you.  Ezekiel vividly describes that feeling with an image that binds words to feeling in verse 12, “…I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.”  Clouds and darkness – how appropriate.

This is why, in verse 10, God says that He is “against the shepherds” and will require an accounting of his flock from the shepherds.  This verse carries a lot of weight and is often overlooked.  This indicates a sentiment that was echoes by many of the prophets. It is the principle that government is authorized on behalf of the people, by God, only as long as it serves the needs of the people.  That government in itself, just as clerical high standing in itself, has no reason to believe that its actions are self-justified.  It’s a slippery concept, but one well worth examining in further detail.  That discussion is beyond the scope of this manuscript.

Moving on from verse 13 we come to another area that is often overlooked, a place where there is some very good theological concepts that Ezekiel is trying to impart to his people who are feeling very lost and forgotten – having been swept away from their city and from the Temple where they were supposed to be practicing their religion. Ezekiel declares that God will feed them, whether on mountains or valleys of Israel, God will feed them in ALL the inhabited places of the country.

What a statement of inclusiveness. In this statement, there is no system of hierarchy or privileged access to the good blessings from God. All the inhabited places are to be fed. And Ezekiel continues in verse 14, “….and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land.”  Take special note of this. Ezekiel is not referring to a specific set of geological ridges here.  The word “heights” or “mountains” more often referred to elevated places of sacrifice and offering. So the image here is that the people are to learn a religious lifestyle of continuously being fed, eg. grazing, by living a life filled continuously with offerings, sacrifices, and prayers. A worthy ambition indeed.

As it has been established up to this point, Ezekiel is a true prophet, and one beyond reproach. He speaks to the truth of the situation and reveals Gods viewpoint.  The woes of Israel that Ezekiel is crunching through do not stop with those in power. There is culpability in the people themselves. We know this because in earlier chapters, the question was essentially raised, Why us? Why do we suffer? So Ezekiel also addresses this here as well.  And the theme is selfishness.  Funny, it’s the same issue Ezekiel had with those in power.

Verse 20 brings us Ezekiel’s explanation.  God will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.  In God’s flock – as was stated above about ALL being fed, there is no hierarchy, no pecking order, no favorites.  So, that being the case, how come some of the sheep are fat, and some of the sheep are skinny??  Hmmmmm????   Ezekiel calls out those with a “me first” attitude. Ezekiel calls out those with a belligerent (shove with flank and shoulder) bullying attitude. Ezekiel calls out those who shove the weak aside.

To fix all this, God declares that he will place His own shepherd over the flock, the one shepherd who He calls David – in other words, of the royal line.  Here we have Ezekiel giving us a reference to the coming of a Messiah, an authorized shepherd, one who will authorize other shepherds. This the same Messiah whom Isaiah named Counselor and the Prince of Peace.  Ezekiel confirms this in verse 25 by telling us that God “…will make a covenant of peace with them”.   All of this so that the people, and everyone around them can become a blessing.

And we close with, “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog: Vol II – God does not keep score

Ezekiel chapter 33 is about many things. Many people get hung up on the ease of assigning a label to Ezekiel, that of Watchman.  One commentary I read makes that the theme of Ezekiel chapter 33.   If I had to summarize this section down, I’d go with “God is not in the business of keeping score”; more on this later.  As I said before, this chapter has many themes.

In the last blog entry, I stated that the first six verses were about communication and answering the question, “Who is responsible for the state I’m in?”

Moving on to verse 7 and beyond, it would be easy to look at this as simply Ezekiel’s calling being explained – he is the watchman, woe to any and all who do not heed, etc, etc.  However, I read a much more important theme and one that is very relevant to us living our lives in the world.  FAIRNESS.  Fairness is what is happening in this explanation.

Ezekiel is being told, and thus the elders of the Hebrews are being told, that there are no special cases, no instances that what applies to you does not apply to me. Just because a person is a member of the holy elite, does not mean that the same standards are not applied.  It’s clear when Ezekiel writes, “…If I tell you to warn, and you do not, then blood is on your hands”.   God does not play favorites, because God is not a respecter of persons.  This is a difficult concept for humans to get their arms around, but it is a common theme throughout all of Ezekiel’s writings.

We are then presented with an interesting adage making its way around the Israelites living in captivity.  Ezekiel records it like this, “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of  them. How then can we live?”  Elements of depression and self pity are laced through this, but also a hint of disavowal or abandonment of future responsibility.  Almost a resignation of what is as a permanent condition.

But the question, How can we live?  still remains.  And here we come across one of the rarely mentioned gems of the Old Testament, or Biblical scripture as a whole.  God tells Ezekiel something significant: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

So firstly, Ezekiel’s insight into the nature of God is that God is not sitting around with a scratch pad gleefully counting up transgressions and just waiting to pull the trigger on furious judgments and penalties.  Instead, God is expecting that people make choices, and continue to choose. God is hoping that people look at their lives and choose a path that leads towards a pattern of living that is consistent with the themes of justice, of fairness, of mercy, of faith.

Secondly, this is an absolutely unmistakable marker for free will and expression of free conscience, that rejects the notion that God is looking for a flock of minions that blindly do His bidding without question nor understanding.  In fact, Ezekiel phrases this as a plea from God’s own mouth asking the question, “Why will you die?…”  This is choice and nothing other than choice.  Ezekiel calls his people to examine their ways for what they are.   Reflect, examine, weigh, discern, judge, and then turn, make a change for the better,… and live. Are we not offered the same expectation, the same opportunity for expression of will, the same portent of our choices?

It is the same for each one, and that is Justice.

The final two points of this section of Ezekiel 33 come back to the idea that God is not an accountant of misdeeds but instead is a God of Justice and Fairness.  For the first point, it is important to keep in mind that God has His own ideas of what is just. The same goes for what is fair.

If we look at verse 12,  at first blush this seems to be a bewildering formula that borders on unfair, especially to those who view scripture as a line-by-line codex of laws and better-does. How can this be fair?  Someone who does good their entire life, and then makes one slip-up and they are condemned?  Oh, and someone spends an entire life living the high-life without regard to anyone else and then gets a free pass just because they turn over a new leaf at the very end?  That’s not right.  (This is also the specific root of the Last Rites, incantation – an attempt to wedge someone into heaven on the last open seat ticket).    Whaaaatt!!?

But that is not what Ezekiel is trying to convey because, it would imply that God is a score keeper, a craggy accountant sitting somewhere up in heaven with a clipboard making little checkmarks for every little action we do. Instead, Ezekiel is trying to point his people towards a state of living, a condition of community, where choices make a difference, and the value of another soul matters, a place where everyone has a stake in the balance of good and evil. Notice the examples that Ezekiel trots out to demonstrate a turning from bad choices:  the returning of unfair collateral for a loan, the return of stolen property of funds are the top two on his list. Fairness.

This mental/spiritual framework leads us to a conclusion that it is a state of living that God is trying to elevate his people, all of his creation for that matter, towards.  This is what Ezekiel refers to as “the decrees of life”.   In this sense, then, if you are living in the good way, and deviate away, then you detach from that state of holiness, that flow of the decrees of life, and are now on a path away from life as described earlier.  If you are not living in a good way, and turn, then you attach to that state of holiness, that flow of the decrees of life and are now on a path towards life as described earlier.  In this framework, it is all fairness as it applies equally to all people as God sees them.

And as for Justice?  Well, this is God’s own complaint.  As Ezekiel informs us, the Hebrew people that are in Babylonian captivity seem prone to expressing their frustration in the form of blame: God is not Just.   Verses 17 -20 are God’s rebuttal against that charge and a very direct explanation of the process of judgment from on high. It ends with a promise that God will indeed reserve judgment to Himself, and that He will keep on judging in His own Just way, ….according to our own actions.

So in the end, it comes down to our choices, our agency, our sense of living in a good way.  Who is responsible for my situation?  I guess I am.

We’ll finish up with Chapter 33 next time.  Lots of stuff in here, but it’s all good. Hang in there.