Ezekiel blog 68: Name of a city

At last we come to Ezekiel’s final chapter, chapter 48. He is about to complete his vision of the restoration of his people, those who are captive under guard in Babylon to their tribal lands in Israel. He sees this as an opportunity to fairly reallocate lands to each tribe, to establish the royal/sacred city, and offer some final comments about the equity of it all.  It is a roll-call of all the tribes in Israel and an establishment of their place.  To each a name is given, to each a gate is named and given.

This leads Ezekiel to the last sentence of his prophecy – the name of the city:  “The Lord is There”.  So what’s in a name?  It’s just a name, right?  In this case, Ezekiel has loaded the name with all kinds of meaning.

By writing the name of the city at the very end, he is indicating that everything else must be accomplished first, and that when everything that has been described in the visions has been faithfully carried out, then the city will receive it’s name.  The name itself takes us back to Ezekiel chapter 11 where Ezekiel sorrowfully reports that the Lord has removed himself away from the city and land of Jerusalem.  So, by achieving all within the visions which lead up to this last chapter number 48, it is an act of faith inviting the Lord to resume residence in a place made sacred through offering, sacrifice, and prayer – all acts of faith.

This was meant as a final enticement to Ezekiel’s fellow captives, something concrete that they could hold on to as they endured their captivity. This entire vision could be accomplished and they would once again become a holy people. This was an immediate hope, not a hope of someday thousands of years in the future, etc. etc.

Ezekiel writes, “…from that time on…” by which he is indicating that this vision, this restoration of faith, is just a beginning point, not the end goal.

Ezekiel is a book of beginnings, not of the end. It is a book of hope amid destruction and despair. Ezekiel’s writings are a pathway through judgement and condemnation towards cleansing and rededication.

Ezekiel ministered with his entire soul, and desperately carried an arduous vision on behalf of his people so that they might live.

 

 

Advertisements

Ezekiel blog 67: River of sacred justice

Ezekiel takes us to a river in Chapter 47, a river with curious properties.  This river has its origin at the very steps of the temple sanctuary, flows from the south side of the complex. It heads East, winding through the land all the way down to the Dead Sea.

Looking around the region to see what other nations/cultures thought about rivers, we find some nice examples in both Babylon and Greece.

Babylonian justice code had a sacred river test. For the questionable case of a suspected magic practitioner the test was sink or swim.  Those that could swim to safety were considered innocent.

The Greeks had the river Styx which was named after their goddess Styx.  This goddess was put in charge of all oaths and promises, those made of a sacred nature.  The Greek story describes a beautiful land at the end of that river, a rich field of forests and green all fed by the river.

Attempting to draw any type definitive connection between these religion’s representational view of these rivers and the river that flows through Ezekiel’s vision can go no further than speculation.  It is not possible to say that Ezekiel’s river corresponds to these other rivers. However, it is interesting to note that in all three cases, the rivers were associated with things of a spiritual nature eg. sacred oaths, tests of innocence, sacred justice and law.

In Ezekiel’s case, the river gets deeper and deeper as it flows forth across the land to the point where no one can cross it.  Could that symbolize that justice can not be crossed? Who knows.  All that we can say is that this part of his vision takes us away from the methodical measurements and exactness of law, and back into the place setting of symbolism and vision.

It’s part of the icing on the cake as Ezekiel begins to close out his series of visions, and part of the final incentive to his people to embrace the calling to faith that Ezekiel is presenting.  A river, flowing through the dessert which brings teaming life where ever it goes. Fruit trees grow on both banks and the waters team with fish. So Ezekiel may be telling his people that life flows from the law which proceeds from the Sanctuary of the Temple, from the practice of the faith as described throughout the entire vision.

It should not be overlooked that further a further metaphor is potentially present in the reference to the fruit trees described as growing on both sides of the river.  These trees bear their fruit on a monthly cycle and are ready to harvest regularly.  It could be said that these trees represent the various other nations or groups of people that live by the law of the temple and are also fed by this water which flows from the temple. The regular fruit harvest could represent their monthly offerings and sacrifices which they bring.  The ability to bring offering and sacrifice before the altar of the Lord has been an indicator of how well the people flourished in the land and is referenced in other circumstances.

Moving away from the topic of the river, Ezekiel switches to a geographic explanation as he draws the boundaries of the lands of Israel to show his people the that fruits to be harvested from the river’s bounty will be sufficient for the whole nation.  According to his vision, the richness of existence will provide an inheritance worth having, an inheritance assigned to each family and tribe. It is also an inheritance which is not exclusive but to be shared with others who choose to live by the law.

In a return to Ezekiel’s theme of fairness and social justice, Ezekiel makes a special note about the population in the final verses of the chapter.  Verse 22 states: “You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.”

In other words, Ezekiel is anticipating that the benefits of being a faithful people, a people who abide by the law, will attract others to come live in the land of Israel and be part of the community.  From the very outset, Ezekiel’s vision was inclusive, not exclusive.  In Ezekiel’s view, many would want to come and live according to the faith, to be near the temple and practice Offering, Sacrifice, and Prayer.

 

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: 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: 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: Last installment for chapter 33

Today’s naughty word: Entitlement.

Ezekiel has lead us, the questing reader, through a series of concepts in chapter 33.  These themes addressed taking responsibility for one’s situation, recognizing God’s view of justice, and owning the task of making choices that affect our lives and the lives of everyone in the community.  Now, finally, Ezekiel addresses another one of his recurring themes throughout the book:  having an inappropriate sense of entitlement.   As in, “I deserve this, because I am {insert self-justification here}”, or “This is mine because I claimed it in the name of…myself”,  or more simply Might-makes-right.  God, through Ezekiel takes this head on.

The sword had come through and devestated the entire area, but there were many who survived. It seems that those people who were left living in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, following its conquest by Babylon, were carried away by a sense of having survived the worst automatically entitled them to the spoils of defaulted property rights of those that didn’t, or who were in no position to stand up for their rights.    And they gathered together and reasoned together, as reasonable human beings do.

This is what they came up with.  Since Abraham, our father possessed this land All By Himself – ’cause he was just one man – How much more right is it to possess all of this land, divided amongst those of us who are left remaining.  For our numbers are so much more than one, so that makes us approved to just appropriate the holdings of those less fortunate.

Ezekiel’s stance was firm as he voiced God’s disapproval of this social / mental framework. This was a bad attitude to take in the face of the mercy recently shown by being spared. To receive mercy and patience, but not to share it on with neighbors, friends, relatives?  That doesn’t fly.

To believe that because of a relatively high headcount you have strength to make a claim, and might makes right?  Ezekiel, one of the Four Great Prophets of the Bible, he says No. That is not right, not ethically, not morally, not spiritually.

And where was the gratitude to God for being spared? Hmmm.  Where were the burnt offerings, where were the peace offerings, where were the sin offerings?  Why was no one fasting and kneeling down in what remained of their fields to offer humble prayers of thanks.

God speaks out here, at the end of Chapter 33, because the focus of the community was on the gain of the individual at the expense of the victims.  That is a way of life that is not consistent with any of Ezekiel’s teachings. It is not the way of a people of true faith or true Humility.  Entitlement is not a value that God looked upon with favor.  See my earlier posts on Ezekiel regarding ‘Jerusalem is the pot, and we are the meat’.

I saw an image with a quote, which I’ll include here.  To summarize, it may be human to look for opportunities of entitlement, but that is not the path to healthy relationships, or to healthy community. It certainly does not draw the soul into appreciation, nor does it work in any way to strengthen, defend or purify the spirit.

Ezekiel’s messages? We can do better.

Ezekiel blog: Vol. II: cliff notes for a stressed out refugee

When I ended my last blog entry – after wrapping up Ezekiel 32 – I mentioned that we had come to the end of the first half of Ezekiel.  Conventional thought breaks his writings into a first half and second half. However, I think I was wrong to position it that way, to go along with the crowd. After all, this blog is about finding my way out into open country, to breathe fresh theological and spritual air, and to cut through the artificial super-imposed noise collected over the centuries  – as it comes to this book, the writings of Ezekiel the Prophet. (It may be helpful to go back to the beginning of this blog to find out what all this is about and how I am exploring a new framework as applied to Ezekiel’s writing.)

After taking a break from the steady pace of progressing through the last seven chapters, I read and reread the next section and was struck by the idea that Ezekiel really cares that anyone who reads his stuff actually understands his stuff.  Quite remarkable really, when you consider the company of the other three great prophets of Biblical scripture and how much symbolism is integrated into each prophetic oracle – it doesn’t seem like it was very fashionable to take a moment to explain yourself or make sure your readers weren’t totally lost.  

Coming into chapter 33, Ezekiel breaks that mode of operation. The result is sort of a cliff notes, a distillation down, of the major themes represented throughout the first 32 chapters.  Over the next few blog entries, it seems appropriate to sample through these thematic messages and meditate over their central meaning, not only to the people of Israel captive in Babylon, but how it relates to us as modern readers.

As an example of this summation approach, consider the first 6 verses of Ezekiel chapter 33.  As I have mentioned before, it is the job of a prophet to speak to the truth of the situation as it exists in the hearts and attitudes of the people to whom God is choosing to provide ministry and guidance. A true prophet really isn’t interested in external validation – after all,….why would he/she? The prophet is plugged into a direct conduit of information and insight. (and this appears to be the trap that so many of the commentaries I’ve read fall dreadfully into – believing that the prophet is at the mercy of external validation or correllation.)

But in these six verse we get a step by step examination of theology which addresses the most basic of all questions for people who are experiencing a crisis of faith:  “Who is responsible for my current condition?” ….Who is responsible?

So the summary that God gives to Ezekiel goes like this:

If I alert you to something, you are supposed to pass it on. So if you don’t pass it on, and something untoward happens to the people I was trying to reach, then it is your fault and you are responsible even though they are the ones who may have been misguided in their choices.  It is your fault.

However, if you do pass it on (help me connect) and the message is disregarded by these people, you are not responsible, not at fault, if something happens to them.  It is their fault. 

It would be tempting to stop right there and determine that these six verses are about fault, that they are about ascribing blame.  But there is a much more significant meaning to be found and it is right in the first sentence of my summation which went, “If I alert you…” to restate.  Now some could argue that my summation has put in different meaning than what is actually written in the scriptural verse.  Well then, Ezekiel 33:1 begins with “The word of the Lord came to me…”

The verse is about communication from a God that cares. Ezekiel is saying that this should not be discounted out of hand. It should be held in esteem and carried forward.  I say carried forward because the Spirit is always in motion, moving throughout all the Earth – every part.  It is not for us as humans to try to thwart, restrain, or deflect.   And even though these verses refer to “the sword” and “the trumpet” speak to most people as images of war, it still remains that imagery is the most basic form of communication.  

It’s also of note that the Trumpet was a tool for signaling alarm along with calling people to praise at the temple, rattling the walls of Jericho, and even the sound accompanying the voice giving the law as it originated on the heights of Mount Sinai.  This was the exact image that Ezekiel wanted his people to remember, especially since every essence of his writings for the first 32 chapters were a call to rememberance of the national and spiritual origins of a people truly re-lost in the desert, in with wilderness of Babylon, so very far from home, and wondering who is responsible.

There is more to be found in the next verses, but,…next time.

Ezekiel blog: End of Nations

At long last, Ezekiel has brought us to the end of his vision of the Nations. It is a lament, in Ezekiel chapter 32, much like his other laments. Yet, this one seems a bit dry, almost hollow sounding, like Ezekiel is feeling the effects of having his awareness opened dramatically to the plight of nations and feeling wrung out.

The first half of the chapter reviews in poetic form all the effects of the judgments against Egypt. One of the verses says that the Lord will “…vex the hearts of many people…”  That is an interesting word to use. Vexation, similar to aggravation or affliction. Frustration muddled together with agrievement. I think that must be not only what the people of Egypt and her neighbors were to feel, but the actual emotional state of Ezekiel. His was to see, to suddenly know, to try to warn, but ultimately realize that none of his efforts would avert what was to come.   It is a very bitter pill for a minister to swallow.

As the original story of the book of Judges took us through a role call of nations – soon to feel the affliction of God’s judgment, and as Ezekiel took us through a role call of nations when he began this section of oracles against all the surrounding neighbors of Jerusalem, so he now ends this entire section with another role call of nations. Starting with verse 17, Ezekiel walks us through each nation with a recurring indictment against “…all who had spread terror in the land of the living”.

In each case, the slain are thrown down into the pit.  This is a horrid visualization today with the relative ease of reviewing photographic records from Nazi concentration camps, or historical records of the treatment of North American native americans. Yet to the people of those lands to whom this was addressed, the imagery goes a step further as it addresses an undignified journey into the underworld – there to lie with all of the others who had been slain by their own sword.

Last of all is the same cant for Pharaoh – he and all his army.   And this brings to a close any hope that some of the Jews in captivity might be holding a candle for.  Egypt is no longer a major player, and all of those age old religious practices that some of the Jews and their hierarchy might be holding onto have passed into a great pit. There to be buried.

It is the end of this sequence of visions.  The ground has been cleared, the wreckage will be removed.  There wil be a time of sleep and rest for the land of Jerusalem.

So,……?  You know that Ezekiel’s people, his fellow captives, have to be asking themselves the most logical next question.

Now what?  Where do we go from here then?

Ezekiel blog: broken arms and tough knocks

Finally.  I’ve made it to Ezekiel Chapter 30.  This chapter is proving problematic for me in some respects.   The commentaries keep drawing out implied references to Assyria – the likening of Egypt through imagery in the verses to Assyrian symbolism.  Yep.  We’ll get to that in a minute.

So this prophecy by Ezekiel jumps back to the 10th year, then jumps forward to the eleventh year.  Within this text, there are 4 poetic verse segments of prophetic doom.  As usual, when ever Ezekiel, or any other of the major prophets, lapses into poetic form, there is a high content of emotional conveyance.  We get words like “anguish”, “frighten”, “agony”, “a day of clouds”. Very gloomy stuff.

As an experiment, I grabbed the first line of each of the four sections and strung them together into a single sentence/phrase.  Surprisingly, this provides a fairly accurate summary of the main point of each verse, and the point of the section all together.

Here is what  that looks like:
Wail and Alas,  The allies will fall,  by the hand of Babylon, I will destroy the idols

This entire section up to this point seems more like a detailed impact to the entire ecosystem of Egypt: her allies and outlying cities, if you look at it form an economic point of view. To that point, it is important to remember that Ezekiel was trained in the Temple which was functioning at time both a religious center and as an economic center.  Therefore, it is not that surprising that Ezekiel draws a link between all the components of the Egypt’s empire – willing or otherwise – and the anguish and despair described above.  In fact, in verse 12, God declares that he will dry up the Nile (the very life blood of Egyptian economy) and “SELL the land “.  This is a direct fiscal reference smack in the heart of all the military oriented speak of the rest of the verses.  To get real about it all, there are very few reasons why whole armies lace up sandals and march 900 miles across desert terrain. Financial gain is right at the top of the list. And reaction to impending financial upset, even in today’s market, is always described with words like “doom”, “crash”, “hysteria”, “fear”, “anxious”, etc.  My favorite is “..it’s a gloomy forecast for blue chip today…”

Commentaries focus on verse 21 as relating to the historical event of Babylon’s initial defeat of Pharaoh.  However,  the flow of the verse, as well as the preceding chapter,  suggests an implication along economic lines following the long assault on Tyre.  It doesn’t make sense to say that an arm is broken, and then say God is going to break it again if it is taken as a literal physical asset of Egypt.  The verse does go on to say that the broken arm is not bound up, that it can not be healed so that it can become strong again. That sounds more like a critical resource has been taken away, much like the State Department is the diplomatic arm of the US government as differentiated from the Military arm.

If an arm is broken and can not grow strong, then the relationship once pursued is now beyond repair and can not be rehabilitated via treaty or trade. That would be the state between Egypt and Tyre/Phoenicia.  This would be a stronger candidate rather than the proposed Assyrian connection based on imagery alone (of a great Cypress tree)  as offered by some of the commentaries.  This Egypt/Tyre connection becomes very clear in Ezekiel Chapter 31 as Ezekiel continues his thoughts  So the verse goes on to say that God will break both arms, both good and already broken. How?  The answer is in the preceding verses, earlier in the chapter,  that detail the impact on all the allies and outlying cities of the Egyptian empire.  Pharoah will not be able to draw upon other resource in order to shore up his dwindling influence. And, because Egypt’s economic ties rely heavily on the Nile and the Nile delta, that becomes a bottleneck to him both from a military sense and from that of commerce.

The point to me is that the judgments pronounced against Egypt have everything to do with participating in a system that benefits you, without acting as reliable and trustworthy neighbors.  Jerusalem falls under attack, Tyre does nothing. Tyre falls under attack, no one including Egypt does anything.  Jerusalem calls out to Egypt, but Egypt fails them as well. Egypt falls under attack as “Payment” to Babylon.

All nice and tidy.