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.

 

 

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: The headline that never was

Ezekiel chapter 43 describes the return of the Lord’s glory to the site of the newly rebuilt temple.   In computer programming languages, the key word “IF” is very powerful as it represents a conditional set of actions based on a choice or decision point. Embedded in this chapter, in many translations is the word “IF”. Some translations of this chapter of Ezekiel use the conditional statement “When” – somewhat more optimistic, but still an implied decision point. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Firstly, Ezekiel has brought us to his crowning (almost) ending of his visionary vista of reward to the faithful. In his vision, the Temple has been rebuild according to the new specifications, all preparations have been made by a faithful people, and the glory of the Lord is seen returning through the East facing gate. Once God has taken up residence, the East gate is to be closed and no one is to ever traverse that gate again – though the prince may pray from that gate….but no one else.

Now, it is important to read what Ezekiel states in verse7, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places.”     It is a very specific indication.  This place, this temple, rebuilt exactly as specified, and sanctified exactly as specified, manned by the priesthood exactly as specified is the place of God’s throne and where His feet will walk.   The corollary is that if it is not exactly this place, then it will not be the place of God’s throne.

Why is that important?

It is significant because this sets up an ideal set of circumstances which will meet God’s indication of faithfulness with regard to the people of Jerusalem now in captivity. There is also that pesky “IF” clause in verse 11 eg. “…If they are ashamed of all they have done,…” they will adhere to these specifications as detailed in Ezekiel’s vision.  It is a test of faith to restore the centerplace of faith according to these instructions.  This was the plan, this was the vision, this was the end goal.

In reality, what actually happened was very different. Recorded in Ezra chapter 3 we find that the returning people of Israel took a different course of action. This is described in verse 2: “….built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.”  In other words, they eschewed the instructions of Ezekiel and went back to doing things according to the way Moses described.  There is also indication in the same chapter of Ezra that the people began reconstruction after the manner of David, again not Ezekiel.

Finally, Ezekiel specified a line of priesthood from the family of Zadok. In actuality, the people resumed usage of the entire Levitical priesthood as described by Moses. And they built the alter and began offering burnt offerings according to the Mosaic tradition. Ezekiel had detailed a series of offerings specifically designed to dedicate the alter, and then had envisioned a more streamlined set of offerings for the people.  None of that happened.

So, what do we conclude from this?

Well, an entire generation had been raised in the time between Ezekiel’s vision and the time the people were allowed to return to their homeland. That means the interim generation had to have been taught about their religious traditions. Given that Ezekiel was performing his ministry for the first 25 years of their exile, and he detailed his visions and explained them at length to the religious leaders remaining with the people. Since the people chose to go with the traditions of Moses rather than the teachings of Ezekiel, we can only surmise that there must have been a power struggle among the religious leaders of Israel while in captivity, and that the traditional hold-outs won out over the new visions of Ezekiel.

However, as determined earlier in this thesis, Ezekiel was no ordinary priesthood member, nor was he to be considered an ordinary prophet. He was a prophet beyond reproach because of his education and standing as a Priest of the Temple, something no other prophet can claim.    His vision was very specific and detailed as would be expected by one so educated.

But the conclusion is inescapable.  Since the people chose to rebuild the temple after the manner of Moses and David, and not after the new vision of Ezekiel, then the rebuilt temple did not meet the requirements of faith which God had stipulated with his “IF” statement. As such, the second temple or rebuilt temple could not have been the place as described in chapter 43 verse 7 where God says, “…this is the place of my Throne…”

And if that incarnation of the temple was not the holy and sacred ground where God walked, then certainly the third incarnation, Herod’s Temple, could not have been either. The fact that the temple was destroyed again and that Herod’s Temple was also destroyed gives makes this claim credible.  Additionally, at the end of Ezra chapter 3, it says the old men wept when the foundation of the rebuilt temple was laid.  The old men may have remembered the teachings of Ezekiel (speculating only on this), while the younger folks shouted for Joy.

Not discounting religious tradition, or mocking the religious significance of a place as described by a people or community, but ask yourself this:  If that temple site is not the sacred ground where God walks, nor the seat of His throne, then isn’t the remaining temple site we see today just another place on the planet, just another piece of rock?  In other words, why was there so much killing associated with that place, and such a desire for possession? Why were the crusades launched to capture the “holy city” when in reality, it was just a regular city with a lot of history? Is it worth the struggle for possession today, with each of the major religions all claiming that it is their sacred site?  Really?  God doesn’t seem to think so.

Food for thought.

 

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: 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: The story moves forward

Lynn Ragan’s fresh look through writings of Ezekiel.

You know, it’s with more than a little trepidation that I’m launching into this next section of prophetic chapters from Ezekiel. There are several challenging concepts at work here, and some theological as well as spiritual territory that can be intimidating and downright confusing. There are some very significant things going on here, and I’ve been frankly dragging my heels starting this up again until I felt I had made some sense from this. In fact, in order to make any sense out this, I had to update my overall concept map – so to speak. My research took me out of the book of Ezekiel, through several disappointing commentaries, and finally to the Book of Judges – of all places.  But, first things first….

To bring you up to speed, I’ve been framing this exploration so far as Ezekiel working to draw parallel’s between the spiritual state of the people of Israel and the original Exodus story – the Moses narrative – as a way to bring reason to the disillusionment and dismay of the people now carried away to captivity in Babylon.   And now I’ve reached the very challenging set of chapters beginning with Ezekiel chapter 20.   

It’s now 2 years later – two years since the beginning of the first visions in the desert. Firstly, that is significant in itself. Too often people look at the prophetic writings as if they just magically appeared, all in once instance.  But Ezekiel clears that up for us by stating specific dates of his writing. So we can see the development of his thinking as he works hard to come to grips with the visions and oracles he is being given. It’s a good reminder that this was written down by someone who is just as human as you or me.

Now, back to the reference points we need to keep in our back pocket to find the way through these writings. As I said, Ezekiel formed his ministry in terms of the original story of the nations of Israel – as a people led into the desert to receive the law of God eg. The Moses story. So we have, references to plagues and judgements, to visions in the desert, to a view of God not tied to a temple location, etc. Ezekiel is trying to shake the people from their fixation on belief that things will return to what was familiar and at the snap of God’s fingers all will suddenly be well. Not going to happen.

But the leaders of the Jews in captivity – for they are all now in Babylon, have some ideas of their own about how things will be going forward. Ezekiel is faced with themes of stuborness, manipulation, and political control. Yep, two years into this, and he’s faced with an even bigger mountain of work. So, Ezekiel takes the people even further into their national story – it’s the same story that we read about in Judges. Believe me, Ezekiel is just as focused on the same messages faith, accessibility of faith to all, and social justice issues as he’s been all along up to this point.

Ezekiel will use elements from the time of the Judges to throw the expectations of the Elders of Israel back in their faces. He will use repetition of their own words, repetition of earlier themes and images, and best of all some of the role reversals from the beginning of the book. And, at the end of it all, we get an interesting roll call of nations (also a theme from Judges) which ties in with the messages of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and many others. It’s all great stuff, but can leave the reader a bit out of breath.

My next blog will dive right into Ezekiel and the Judges of Israel. See you soon.

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog: What’s in a verb anyways?

 

In any story, in any narrative, there comes a point where the voice of the storyteller shifts.  It doesn’t always happen. But, in most cases where someone is trying to convince you of something, or dissuade you of something, the tension will rise around how active the verbs are. To that point,  I remember my history professor in college challenging me to get out of passive voice and into active voice.

What does this have to do with Ezekiel Chapter 16?  As I was reading through some more of this chapter, I was struck by a couple of key sentences, verses 15 & 16 specifically.  The tone became very different as we hear God’s complaint get voiced in such a way such that we begin to hear the emotional overtones of betrayal and dismay.  Everything said from the beginning of the chapter was in first person.  “I” did this, and “I” did that ….all for you. Verse 15 starts in with “But you did this”, and “you did that”.   You, You, You.

I thought that the phrase, “You trusted in your beauty” was an interesting way to begin things. God is full of astonishment and disappointment at Israel whom he has brought forward from humble beginnings, through all the growing pains, little by little gaining grace and beauty, who has now taken a possessive ownership of that very same beauty. Israel basically says, “thanks, but it’s mine just the same” – a sort of self justification for any action yet to be taken.  It’s a form of arrogance that dismisses the gentle process of guidance towards perfection and revels in the apparent state of arrival as if nothing has happened before this point.

That devaluation is further characterized in the second half of that sentence where God continues, “and you used your fame to become a prostitute”.  So not only did you devalue the entire partnership and loving care to get you to this point, you chose to spend what remaining value you had towards a short term increase in popularity that was completely false.  “You used this – to become that”.  The next several verses use the verb “took”, as in “You took this – and did that with it”.

So:  Trust, Use, Took.

Looking at those three verbs, they don’t seem that harmful or out of sort at first glance. In cases like this, I find that working backwards is instructive.

Beginning with “took”, why is it took and not receive.  Every asset mentioned was freely given by God to his cherished Israel. It reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son that Jesus told.  One son demands everything and cashes it in. The other son is jealous of lavish attention while forgetting that he has access to anything of the household by the grace of his father.  Do I continually go to God with demands of what I want?  It has always been a point of work for me to try to be aware of what I have received – most times without even asking.  Some people refer to this as the discipline of being thankful.  I think that is part of it, but it is also a discipline of recognizing all the little steps and pieces that are continually there supporting you even though things may be hard and you feel burdened.  To me, it’s not to dismiss my feelings of anxiety, pain, or sorrow over hard issues, but a reminder that there is a presence working with me.

Next up, “use”.  That’s not so bad one would think. We do that kind of thing all the time such as use the butter knife to butter toast. Use the phone to say hello.  Except – “use” implies autonomous control; and said autonomous control implies ability to make responsible choices.  When God says “…you used your fame to become a prostitute”, God is questioning the overall sense of good judgment that Israel claims to have.   This is not what the proud Father of Israel intended as a beacon on the hill for all to see. It all was thrown away and became as nothing.  What a waste.   The message of Ezekiel is that you don’t use what God has given you for dark purposes. You don’t let your own judgment seduce you into thinking your very limited vision is greater than God.

Which leads us to “Trust”.  The accusation is that Israel ceased placing faith and trust in the God that lead them out of Egypt and began to place their trust in their own self-concieved political maneuverings; buying and selling favors, etc.  Jeremiah had given the same warning:

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.

Much is going on in this chapter, a lot of emotion, a lot of tension. And, it forces me to ask questions of myself:

How aware am I of receiving what God is ready to give?  How will I know when these things come along – am I even looking?

Am I taking and then using? or am I trying to align my efforts with what God already has going on around me? How do you know what God already has going on?

Who am I trusting in? Is it my own agenda, my own sense of wisdom? Am I praying for the success of my own maneuverings, or placing faith in what God is doing?

I am not sure I know the answers to these questions all the time. I suspect that my answers change from time to time. I suspect that is what it means to be an imperfect soul.

 

 

Not to forget the ladies

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Now hold on here.  So far, Ezekiel has been talking about specific people, more specifically the MEN in charge of all things religions and governmental.  That’s 13 and a half chapters of all kinds of wrong-doing, etc.  The wrongs are addressed and the folks responsible are,…well held responsible.  But there is a certain focus to it all.  These groups, this situation, etc.   But there is no all-out blanket of judgment against men as a gender. Culturally, there seems to be an un-spoken “boys will be boys” when it comes to bringing on the entire downfall of your respective city-state / country / village. In other words, “men, you were bad, you got punished, lets try again.” To be clear, I’m speaking about cultural bias here, not accusing God of lackadaisical justice.  Again to be clear, in all instances, it is our own limitations that prevent us from understanding the fullness of what God is about.

That said, what about the women folk?

I’m thinking back through passages of history that stand in contrast.  Early Renaissance period and the Witch hunts through out Europe.  The establishment of the principle that women must be kept under lock and key because universally there is trouble to be had if they can just do what they want.  The outright ban on educating women for several centuries, and not to be left out, the Salem Witch Trials.   All of these, and many more, instances of fanatic adherence to supposed religious principles are all directed uniformly at a gender, rather than the specific persons as we see in Ezekiel’s oracles.  So it begs the question, what does Ezekiel have to say on the subject of women who trespass the law?

To be honest, biblical scripture has been used to justify the actions I just described.  Some of that scripture comes from this very chapter of Ezekiel.  But is that really what Ezekiel was intending with his prophecy?

Well, if we are irrationally predisposed to accept that all women have the potential to mysteriously become soul-trapping dark magic dealers,  it might seem reasonable to turn to Chapter 13: 17-23.  Suddenly we have grounds to fly off the handle, convene pop-up courts throughout the dark ages and start sentencing women to death for witchcraft.  That’s one half of one chapter of text,…..seven verses folks.   There are websites out there right now on the internet that cite this exact portion of this chapter as part of the combined Biblical condemnation of women as religious leaders. Additionally, the implication, historically, is that women are some how more susceptible to the enticements of witchery and must constantly be on guard against their own dark nature, etc. etc.

The problem is that readers from other centuries tended to skip through much of this chapter and just string together little bits of the text into a preconceived picture than can be applied as a stereotype.  For instance, it is a section that is specifically addressed to women – whoa that’s different.  Later on in the chapter it mentions veils of different lengths.  This then tied together with the phrase, “…ensnare souls”.  Finish it off with mention of “magic charms” and voila, you have an instant indictment against any female person who doesn’t quite fit in. These charges are so vague that they can be applied to almost anyone who is not in the popular crowd, or who is inconvenient in their opinions.  Yes indeed, these are serious witchcraft like charges, etc. etc.  However…..

To be blunt, that is not what Ezekiel Chapter 13: 17-23 is about at all.  Not even close.

This section starts with a very clear sentence which exactly states the Lord’s objection to the behavior of certain women of the community.  So right away, we see that Ezekiel is addressing a specific situation, just like he had to do with the male leaders of the community. These women that Ezekiel is addressing are the one’s who prophesy out of their “own imagination”.  They are making stuff up.    They do this in order to make themselves look good, to gain prestige, or to meddle with someone else’s emotional/spiritual crisis.

In modern times, when people do that, it is usually for some kind of profit. I am guessing that people were pretty much the same back then as well.  Ezekiel calls this out too.  He criticizes the women who lie to the people all for the payment of bowls of barley or other grain.  Think about that.  Their clientele is so poor, that they have to pay for services with the food off of their own table.  What kind of a holy person would demand some give up food, meals that are probably intended for children of the house.

And by what methods do these particular women use to distinguish themselves?  How do they make themselves stand out from the poor and lower classes?

They use head drapes like the men who are actual officials.  The thinking is: See – I’m like them, so you should listen to me.
They use Magic charms:  mysterious talismans whose purpose is to confuse the onlooker into thinking you know more than you really do.  The trap here is that the victim has to rely on your interpretation – which gives you control.

In effect, talismans (charms, tokens, et al) are all miniature forms of idols.  Does this mean that every charm bracelet sold in your local mall is some kind of perverse religion?  Not really.  It is only in the faith you give to such man-made things, or the control you give to someone else which makes this a thing of folly.  And magic charms and talismans come in many, many more forms these days. Whatever gives you a false strength over someone else – that is the charm you tie to your wrist for all to see.

I was recently in a rather well known coffee shop for lunch with my wife.  Sitting in the booth adjacent to us was a pair of women.  It was of interested because they both had study bibles out and a pile of highlighters and study materials.  One of them was somewhat younger than the other.  The older of the two seemed to be in the role of an instructor.  It was a bit surreal though as the “instructor” had the stereotypical froo-froo hair, several layers of makeup, Jewelry on both wrists, and a study guide facsimile that was clearly part of a larger program which she waved around and dramatically referred to.  I remember seeing the confused  expression on the younger woman’s face at what was being “explained” to her by the instructor who spoke in the again stereotypical southern accented bible-speak.  She was using all the sales techniques I’ve been trained in – and I could see the lost expression on the “student’s” face, I could imagine how disheartened she must be feeling.  I felt so sorry for her because this was, in part, what Ezekiel was talking about.  A minister’s job is not to confuse, overwhelm, and bully the timid inquirer. A minister isn’t supposed to be building himself or herself up. Quite the contrary.  Ask yourself if you can remember a single verse where Jesus sought to build up his public image with trinkets, taxation, or excessive presentation.

But getting back to Ezekiel 13, one could ask  why does this matter anyway?  Wasn’t it enough for Ezekiel to just condemn all the false prophets in the beginning of the chapter…’nough said?  Why the extra detail here?  The answer is found by asking the next question:  Who were these false female prophets affecting?  Ezekiel provides the answer:   Those who died but who were not supposed to die.   Additionally, these specific women lied and disheartened those who were seeking the truth,  and with their lies THEY ENABLED those who brought disaster upon Jerusalem.

And for that, they did earn a special place in the wrath being set loose upon Jerusalem.  But,…we do not, as a corollary, have a condemnation against all women, nor a judgment that they cannot participate in faith.

People, the message here is that true Prophecy is about Truth.