Ezekiel Blog: Beyond reproach

One of the things that drew me to the Book of Ezekiel is that his writing comes from a very unique situation and viewpoint in terms of the credentials of his office.  I’ve touched on this before, but here in Chapter 20, this becomes critically important.  To put it  simply, Ezekiel breaks the mold, but in such a way that is completely verifiable.  As a result, we get taken into some very uncharted waters.    Let me show you…

As I mentioned in the last blog, Ezekiel has expanded his prophetic theme to include not just a re-interpretation of the Exodus story, but also an extension into the period of the Judges – the next step in the growth of Israel.  One of the evidences of this is the retelling of Israel pre-history.  Book of Judges chapter 6 tells the story of one Gideon who was a Judge of Israel. When the elders of Israel came to him to complain about the overall situation of life, Gideon launches into the following Oracle from God:

“When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

So far, that jives with what we know from the Book of Exodus.   However, when the elders of Israel in captivity come before Ezekiel to complain about the overall situation of life, Ezekiel delivers the following:

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I chose Israel, I swore with uplifted hand to the descendants of Jacob and revealed myself to them in Egypt. With uplifted hand I said to them, “I am the Lord your God.” On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands. And I said to them, “Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

“‘But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

This is a very different account of the days of Exodus.  In what way is it different?

1.  Ezekiel says that God revealed himself to the Israelites before he began the work of the plagues.  The Book of Exodus maintains that God revealed himself through the plagues and then called Israel out to the desert so that he could meet with His people.

2 Ezekiel says that Israel was told not to worship the Idols of Egypt.  Gideon says they were told not to worship the Idols of the Amorites.  Exodus does not mention it.

3. Ezekiel says that the people rebelled and held tight to their idols (“…nor did they forsake the idols…”), the ones they were already worshipping in Egypt.  Gideon does not mention this, and version we have from Exodus maintains the purity of Israel – which is why they were spared the Angel of Death.

What does this give us then?   It gives us three different versions of the Exodus story, plainly printed for all to read.  Two of these versions begin with the phrase “This is what the Lord says…”.   This should immediately present a problem to those who hold to the argument that the Bible was literally “dictated” by God in it’s current form.   You can see in the two examples above where God is “dictating” two different stories.

Before I go any further, I want to explicitly state that this is not an attack on the authenticity of the scripture that we find in the library we know today as the Bible; more specifically the Old Testament. On the contrary, having somewhat of a mystical streak myself, I find this is actually more engaging to my soul – a more fertile ground upon which to meditate on the wonders of the works of God.   To me, because it is not exact, means that man had to struggle and still must struggle to understand what God is about. But I digress….

So, why did I name this blog entry “Beyond Reproach” ??   Well, to put it bluntly, Ezekiel wasn’t some hairbrained maniac come down from the hills, he wasn’t a country hick, or worse yet, a lesser prophet.  This man was a fully trained and practicing priest decended from the proper families of priesthood. This means that he was fully apprenticed, studied and versed in ALL scripture and books of the law …..especially including the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).  Ezekiel, like all priests, was trained to memorize the Torah and pass it down from generation to generation orally. The oral tradition is an established fact.

In short, Ezekiel is a very unique prophet, with an impressive set of credentials that are absolutely beyond reproach.  So how could he get this wrong?  I don’t think he did get this wrong.  Once again, it is the job of the prophet to speak to the truth of the situation and to reveal a deeper, more complete picture of what God is doing that man may or may not be aware of.  From Ezekiel’s perspective, or any true prophet, it is God who must be worshipped with faith, not a book or a statue or a building, etc. Faith needs no monuments to itself and neither does God.

And, I daresay, neither does this book, for it is a work of faith as well.

As I read through this amazing sacred text, I am struck again and again by the fact that so much of Ezekiel gets swept under the rug or dismissed outright. It’s a wonder that it remains in the Bible canon as we have it today instead of being edited out like so many other sacred books.  Honestly, several of the commentaries dismiss most of these chapters from 18-22 as mere repetitions of judgments pronounced earlier.  But you have to ask yourself, why would Ezekiel (or his followers and scribes) do that. It’s not like resources were easy to come by while in captivity and the law of minimums says that you do what ever it takes to complete the task, but only what it takes. So repetition for repetition’s sake, to me, seems like a lightweight way to blow off this content without really digging in to see what God is about.  Faith takes work, discipleship takes diligence.  Either that, or many feel the message is just too obscure to make out, so they head on to easier works.

I submit that the messages contained here in Ezekiel chapter 20 are neither repetitious nor irrelevant to the object of our current social conditions. They are here and now the same issues faced by Ezekiel’s own people.  The spirit of vision which lifted Ezekiel’s stylus to papyrus or tablet is quite different from the effort of today’s man to stifle and contain that same spirit of prophecy by heralding the merits of a one size fits all interpretation of scripture.  We, today’s people are not Moses, and therefore should not have the expectation that God will dictate scripture to us, just for our benefit alone, and hand it to us in a single bound volume known as the Bible. That would just be arrogant.  It shows a startling lack of faith if scriptural exactness is the test-of-the-day in order to justify a daily belief in the concept of a just God.

Ezekiel wasn’t hung up on scriptural exactness, and he was a person really hung up on precision and detail. He was beyond reproach.  So  maybe, if an in-exact scripture was OK for this prophet, this priest, this man of God beyond reproach, maybe we can ease up and not be so hung up on the manmade need for an inerrant scripture.

I am almost done with Chapter 20 of Ezekiel. There are just a couple more points to touch on next time and then I can move on to Chapter 21.