Ezekiel blog: Betrayal to the point of losing it all

ProphetWritingImageHere we go into Ezekiel Chapter 22.

Honestly, I think that chapter 22, 23 and 24 of Ezekiel all sort of run together in to one continuous macro-chapter. Chapter 23 is pretty graphic and blunt and is also where Ezekiel comments on the bluntness of chapter 22. Then, chapter 23 brings it all into reality in very grim and sad circumstances.

How do I pull all of this apart? I started by doing what I’ve been doing all along, I read several biblical translations of chapter 22 and then read a bunch of different commentaries. By this point in the book, most of the commentaries are hopelessly lost and not much help and it’s really quite stunning the wide variance of interpretive approaches for those that have stayed in the game.

It is a short chapter, but I find it overlayed with almost a bullet list of thematic morals. I thought I would list these and try to sort through them – in no particular order.

Point 1) Subtle message of hope to the people in exile, the silver is not in the kiln because it has already been taken away (to Babylon).

In working with different ores, the smelting process separates out the impurities making it easier to extract the precious metal. Such is the case with silver and the dross left behind. The narrative of Ezekiel focuses on the dross which is used to describe the people of Jerusalem – something to be discarded and no longer of use to God. Blunt and to the point. The hidden message though, is that the valuable part of the ore has already been taken away in the form of the Israelites in bondage under Babylon’s rule. They didn’t see it that way, but in this way, God has preserved the best part of His people. They are captive, yes, but they are free to follow their faith for the most part and they are allowed to live. Not so for the prideful people of Jerusalem.

Point 2) God’s willingness to profane himself to make his point
Dispersal of His chosen among the nations (fortelling of the upcoming rollcall).

God is willing to send His people away to live out among the nations, knowing full well that they may pick up elements and practices that do not conform to the purest way of life laid out for them from the beginning. In this way, God is willing to profane Himself in order that his people may be saved and redeemed in the future. The mention of the nations here is a prelude to the upcoming chapters in which God gives stern warnings, admonitions, and judgements in a sort of roll call. This roll call of the nations is also an element of the book of Judges which brings us back to the method Ezekiel was using to draw his people into a remembrance of their faith.

Point 3)  God’s remorse at not being able to find even one (a tossback to Abraham) who would do the work.

What’s a good narrative without drawing on the imagery of founding fathers, great leaders of the past, pinnacles of faith that everyone knows well. Ezekiel, being a priest of the Temple, knows well the history of his people and especially the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was Abraham who pleaded on behalf of the cities of Sodom and Gamorah negotiating in terms of a certain number of righteous people among the inhabitants. God is saying, “…don’t even go there. I’ve already checked and can not even find one who will do the work.”

Point 4) Condemnation of the Prophets who whitewash and tear at the people like lions

Following up on the previous point, Ezekiel pens condemnation of the self-named prophets who have provided false validation to the leadership of Jerusalem. These are the people who blandly downplay the social injustices that are committed in the streets of Jerusalem, who stomp out dissent with false oracles, and who give the leadership a free pass for each offense as a divine right to oppress.

Point 5)  Confusion of translations of Ezekiel source texts / confusion of commentators.

As a personal observation, there is a lot of confusion over these verses in the various translation. Going to the source documents does not make this task any easier – though the translations have become for fluid and consistent over the centuries. Many of the earlier commentaries struggled with the concepts here and later commentaries sort of drifted over the context by using general terms such as “further judgments of Israel”. For me, I looked back at earlier chapters and saw the themes that Ezekiel himself had forwarded and we see here a return to those same themes: a prioritization of sin, a condemnation of social injustices, a calling out of the false self-named prophets, and an overarching call to a return to faith.

I found this to be enlightening in many ways. Firstly, to see how some of modern theology has been derived from faulty old translations of Ezekiel and then been layed down like veneer on the newer translations without actually reviewing the texts themselves. For instance, I read one commentary who inferred references to the anti-christ as described by John in Revelations. While there are connections between the book of Revelations, because John assuredly derived some of his imagery from Ezekiel and Daniel, this isn’t one of them. A careful reading of more modern translations reveals that Ezekiel was focused on the existing so-called prophets who validated the abuses that the leadership of Jerusalem were committing – something I’ve mentioned earlier.

In a simplistic approach to reading biblical scripture, it’s often the tendency to look for rules to follow in order to establish a qualification checklist as to whether a person is “good” or “bad”.  This is not really the purpose of scripture as a whole, and even less so for apocalyptic writers of the Old Testament period.  Yes, prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah and Daniel and Jeremiah were very aware of what we call Talmudic law. Much of the Mishnah had been figured out by then – though codified later.

But, the prophets, at least the four major prophets of the Old Testament era, were focused more on the spiritual condition of the people as well as the spiritual condition of the ruling elite (or lack thereof).  By the way, did you ever notice that their are four main prophets of the Old Testament which balance out the four Gospels of the New Testament? Hmmmm. So when reading through prophetic writing, it is important to keep firmly in mind that the prophet has a multi-layered message going on that speaks to the reality of the situation – that is the definition of revelation eg. to reveal.

Now when Ezekiel begins listing out the sins of Jerusalem, I am struck by a couple of things. Firstly, the list greatly resembles the earlier list we are provided when Ezekiel is defining personal responsibility when it comes to sin. Secondly, The prioritization of these “greater” sins over the minutia offenses that populate much of Leviticus and especially the Mishna. Third and lastly, is is amazing clear that each of these sins in some way represents a betrayal of trust and/or a failure to live up to commitment. Lets walk through them, starting in verse 7:

  • Treated father and mother with contempt
  • Oppressed the foreigner
  • Mistreated the fatherless and the widow
  • Despised the Holy things and desecrated the Lord’s Sabbath
  • Slanderers (false accusers)
  • Idol worship by eating at mountain shrines and participating in cult  related “lewd” acts
  • Dishonored their father’s bed (intrude on parent’s privacy or marriage – also incest)
  • Violate women during their period
  • Seduce and have sex with neighbor’s wife
  • Seduce and have sex with daughter-in-law, or his sister (the word violate is also used which can mean to abuse)
  • Accepting bribes to commit murder
  • Taking interest and making profit from the poor  (social injustice)
  • Extorting unjust gain from your neighbors
    – All proof that you have forgotten the Lord says Ezekiel.

This is a very interesting list, don’t you think. These are the top priority “sin” items that Ezekiel, a fully trained and authorized Priest of the Temple as well as a Prophet of the Lord was concerned about. Most of these sins can be traced back to either the Ten Commandments section of scripture, or to various passages in Leviticus.  All of these sins have something in common. They all deal with various forms of betrayal of trust and breaking of covenants. Sometimes this betrayal takes the form of taking advantage of the powerless and vulnerable which is a familiar theme for anyone who has seriously read through Ezekiel.   It is for these sins that God is launching the destruction of Jerusalem in Chapters 22-24.

What is also interesting is what is not on this list. For example, there is no mention of things like:

  • pre-marital sex
  • abstaining from various foods
  • abstaining from various beverages or wines
  • failure to maintain dress code
  • intermarriage of races or among foreigners
  • failure to regularly attend a synagogue or church
  • failure to read scriptures regularly
  • homosexual relationships
  • requirements for public display of faith (faith for show)
  • Swearing or course language
  • Dancing
  • Getting tattoos
  • Piercings
  • Listening to the wrong music
  • wearing the wrong kind of clothing
  • being poor
  • being one of ‘those’ people

Top of the list of reasons, then, as to why God is sending destruction upon Jerusalem is no that He is an angry vengeful God who is going through a minutia checklist of sins and adding them up like a score card. No, instead the top reasons have to do with betrayal of faith, betrayal of trust, lack of mercy, and social injustice against the vulnerable and poor of their own population on a mass scale as perpetrated at an institutional level by the leadership of Jerusalem.   This dysfunctional civic eco-system has been building up for generations. It has been warned against for generations.  This is a pivotal point in time when everything is about to change.

Take this anyway you like. But like I said before, this is from a Prophet beyond reproach with every credential possible, and this is what he wrote.  He was concerned about character, not rules, commitment and abiding by covenants instead of choosing betrayal, and he was concerned about faith.

Later y’all.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.