Ezekiel Blog: Time for a gardening story

Looking back over the flow of the Book of Ezekiel so far, there has been motion away from the presumed home base of Jerusalem for the children of Israel.  My framework of approach has been to see these observations by Ezekiel through the eyes of one who was trained specifically in the ways and traditions of Moses.  And then we come to Ezekiel chapter 17, where apparently it is now story time:  Two Eagles and a vine.

The reality is that we’re at the end of a 2 year time period in which Ezekiel has been experiencing these visions. With this being the case, we are treated to sort of a summary of conclusions and reiterations of cause and effect.

Getting back to Chapter 17 and our parable, as in the case of every parable, there is always the action, and then the observations about that action; the morale of the story.  Since Ezekiel is a true prophet, there are several points that can be inferred from this story.  As usual, he is speaking at several levels at once.

Chapter 17 is actually broken into 4 distinct sections.
Vs 1-8   The actual Parable complete with study/discussion questions in verses 9 & 10.  Isn’t  that nice?
Vs 12-15 The Explanation, again complete with study/discussion questions
Vs 16-21 Prophecy of what God’s actions will be and what the results from poor choices will yield
Vs. 22-24 Prophecy of the restoration of the purity of Faith

Rather than retell the parable and summarize – which is what all the commentaries seem to do, I thought I’d remark on some interesting connections and conclusions that Ezekiel seems to be spoonfeeding us. As I mentioned earlier, Ezekiel seems to be speaking at several levels. So, in bullet point fashion, here is what I see that Ezekiel is most concerned about:

1. The point that jumps right off the page first is clearly about “Commitment” or the act of breaking a covenant. Covenant is a topic that starts in Genesis and is prominent throughout all the books of Moses, what is also referred to as the Torah. In short, breaking one is not cool. If you are going to break a simple covenant with one person, how will God know that you intend to keep the covenant you make with him in sacred space.

2. Transplanting is a well-known method, even then, for preserving the good core of a plant, while removing it from a bad or unproductive environment. This parable is a way of portraying God as a caring gardener trying to preserve the precious nature of Israel’s faith but clear out all the negative factors. In other words, this entire book of Ezekiel is not just about retribution, judgement and punishment. This is the answer to the question: Why??

3. Babylon – the city of Merchants – is portrayed as a lesser of two evils when compared to Egypt at the time. God’s message to Ezekiel was that, at least during captivity, they would be allowed to return to basics of their faith and renew what was started when Moses led them forth from Egypt. This would not always be so, of course, but God would provide a way forward when faith would eventually be penalized.

4. Ding, Ding, Ding –Spoiler Alert– This very section of Ezekiel must have been what Jesus was referring to when he made the speech about “A house divided” wherein either you serve one master, or you serve the other master. Yet another link between the ministry of Jesus, his very teachings, and the message of the prophets of the Old Testament.

5. A glimmer of hope at the very end – or perhaps a foretelling of the Messiah. After all, a tree grows up, not down. Therefore, a lineage of Kings would be represented as growing up through the generations. The very tippy-tip-top of the tree would be the tenderest, most vulnerable, most recent version of the lineage of kings.

From the perspective of the people of Jerusalem, they were being taken away from everything that was good, everything that they knew. From God’s perspective, He was taking them away from a toxic environment and transplanting them to some clear soil for temporary holding in order to let the plant heal.

Are you being transplanted? Was I? When I thought things were really good, was it really a toxic situation in disguise? Was it not health for my growth, and just maybe God new better? Did I resist, did I fight?

 

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Ezekiel blog: A long story begins

Ezekiel chapter 16 is one of the longer chapters, and if I do say so, a bit creepy in some respects (at least one commentary agrees with that).  We are taken away through Ezekiel’s visionary experience into a long metaphor of the history of Israel.

Ezekiel paints a picture of a truly undesirable beginning.  It’s a common story even today eg. wrong parents, undesirable lineage, bad neighborhood, no economic standing, bad hygiene, living in rags and poverty. No one would want her, Israel that is.  We are told that God took enormous care and patience, long suffering to watch over Israel as she grew.  All the growing pains, correcting measure by measure.  This is a process that took centuries of history.

If we look at this today, it flies in the face of the modern accusation that the God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath and quick vengeance.  Absolutely not true.  Here we have a patient and nurturing God who forgives blatant imperfection. He see’s the potential of what could be. God planted the seeds of richness and watched them grow.

There is a line in this chapter that I really love – though it sounds so much better in the poetic text of the KJV. It says,

Then washed I thee with water;
yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee,
and I anointed thee with oil.

It is a promise to each one of us, spoken clearly into the middle of the mess we find ourselves living every single day.

What’s more, we see in this chapter that the neighboring nations are directly referenced, and this is for a reason.  Ezekiel tells of God’s excitement about presenting his precious jewel of Israel to all the other nations. Why?  Why is that?

I think it tells of us the intention to bring hope and improvement to the other nations – who are also of God’s creation – by showing Israel as an example.   It’s almost as if He’s saying, “Look! Look at what I was able to do with the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak.  I can also bring you closer to perfection if you come to my presence and forsake your pride and evil ways.  Here is the example. Here is what is waiting for you”

Isn’t that what Jesus said in one of his sermons too, when He said “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.”  I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, that there is such a huge connection between the Gospels  and the Old Testament prophets.

It is the same message, but you have look closely.

From  a personal perspective, does that mean you or I are supposed to hold ourselves out as examples?  I submit to you that the answer is No.  How do you know when you are perfect in God’s view?  No, it was for God to decide the moment and time, and present His work to the nations. Similarly, it is for God to decide when to use you for an example

All we can do is present ourselves to our neighbors and community as imperfect creatures – a work in progress.  And share that message that if God is willing to invest time and materials in me, then He surely is willing to do the same for you.

I find a certain amount of peace in this message – and this is the good news of the Gospel.

Next blog will traverse further into Ezekiel chapter 16 to see what happens next. What does Israel do, and how does the vision progress?