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: Purple trilogy part II

Ezekiel 27:  “For what it’s worth”….

Imagine that you grow vegetables and have a produce stand.  You are producing more vegetable stock than you can sell.  What’s more, your gardens are more than slightly vulnerable to the neighbors who like to run their ATV’s through your fields on occassion.  You think you could really make a lot more money than you are pulling in right now because of your abundant produce.  What do you do?

I asked this question to a friend of mine who specializes in business to business consulting.  After a few moments of consideration, he said the strategy mostly likely to be successful was to find a partner to help expand your markets. BINGO!!! It turns out that is exactly what Israel and Judah, and specifically the rulers of Jerusalem had done.

They found a partner, a business partner, in the form of Tyre who we recognize today as the Phoenicians.  There is ample documentation of this business relationship whithin Biblical scripture going all the way back to King David who recieved a shipment of fine wood from Tyre.  Solomon continued the relationship.  We have documentation of Queen Jezebel who was a daughter of Phoenician royalty married to a Prince of Jerusalem.

There is not a lot of detail about the specifics of the Trade Agreement between Jerusalem and Tyre.  Historians make note of the access to Hebrew markets(Note 1 below)  for Tyre’s trade goods as a result of the partnership. This is where Ezekiel steps in (Ezekiel chapter 27) to provide some valuable insight and it is from there that we begin to learn exactly why Ezekiel is mentioning Tyre at all in his writings. It turns out that the situation is more significant that would appear on the surface.  But first, back to our vegetable stand….

I asked my friend, the business to business consultant, how would one go about finding a partner and establishing the partnership? The answer was, “Raise Capital”, capital to attract investors, capital to finance expansion, capital as collateral against investment risk.  Hmmm.  So Tyre, at the time had the greatest trading network in that part of the world.   Ezekiel chapter 27 gives an extensive list of the kind of trade volume that they handled and an explicit list of trade inventory.  It also mentions the types of goods and products being received from both Judah and Israel VS. 17 “Judah and Israel traded with you; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections,[e] honey, olive oil and balm for your wares.”

Along with a healthy trade agreement would come responsibility on the part of both parties to safeguard and protect the investment while goods were in route and payment was being collected and banked upon.  From Jerusalem’s point of view, this would require yet more capital and a commit of military presence for security.

So, it should be striking as more and more apparent that “raising capital” in Bronze Age times (as much as at any point in history) by a ruling aristocracy would come in the form of raising taxes or increasing the burden carried by its people.  Perhaps longer work was required. Perhaps a higher amount of product was required by the state leaving less for the actual population. Perhaps less services were spared for the people of Israel and Judah by their own princes in order to finance and maintain this lucrative trade agreement.  The important thing to meditate upon, here in Ezekiel’s lament, is what it means to raise capital to a landlocked, desert bound country.  What does raising capital mean to a corporation today? How far should one go? When is enough, enough?

In all of these speculative perhap’s, it would be the children who suffered most.  And this is the point that Ezekiel hammered on the most when condemning the atrocities of the rulers of Jersusalem.  Ezekiel called them out graphically for sacrificing their children, children who may have been deprived of food or adequate policing in the streets, children whose parents had to work longer hours to provide food for the table but remained in poverty, and children who grew to young men and inducted into security forces of the state and stationed with the forces of Tyre.  In any regard it is clear that at least  three prominent kings of Israel had extensive dealings with Tyre, and as there was a royal presence, it is plausible that there was a royal guard as well to protect the royal investment.  Funny how times change, but the governmental/business situations do not.

Ezekiel doesn’t tell us in Chapter 27 too much about Tyre’s actions that deserved punishment – though many commentators focus on the wealth and the nature of the trade.  We know from other narratives that Elijah chastised the married queen Jezebel for polluting the faith of the temple, but more on that in the next blog.  All we get to consider here is that Tyre considered herself “Perfect in beauty” on the high sees – a very popular friend to be had.

Yet at the end of this lament, we see that all of those friends who are mentioned verse 33,  “When your merchandise went out on the seas, you satisfied many nations;…”, they all abandon Tyre to her fate of being invaded over and over again.  Ezekiels states that all the kings “…shudder with horror…” at Tyre’s downfall, but do nothing but hide their faces. No one comes to Tyre’s aid as no one came to Jerusalem’s aid.

It would appear that fair weather friends are easy to find, but hard to keep at your side. Ezekiel writes:

“Who was ever silenced like Tyre, surround by the sea?”

CHICAGO STYLE CITATION

As Footnote/Endnote:
1. Joshua J. Mark, “Tyre,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, last modified September 02, 2009, http://www.ancient.eu /Tyre/.

2. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0016_0_15729.html

Ezekiel blog: A new trilogy of Purple

These next three chapters of Ezekiel provide profound insight into the question of why the Book of Ezekiel in the first place.  These chapters beginning with Ezekiel 26 touch on some very contemporary issues that we face globally today. At the same time, we get some explanation as to why the judgments are pronounced so completely across the population of Judah and Jerusalem specifically during the Babylonian conquest.  Lets set the stage.

Three years after the beginning of the final siege on Jerusalem by Babylon, Ezekiel is given a new oracle regarding the fate of a nation very close to Israel and Judah. It’s not good news either.  Ezekiel chapter 26 begins a small trilogy section on the nation of Tyre.   It goes sort of like this:

Chapter 26 (The brief and blunt pronouncement of Tyre’s fate) –> Chapter 27 (Poetic lament illustrating the finer points of the destruction of Tyre, and just why it is so sad) –> Chapter 28 ( A chapter pretty much dedicated to why the Israelites should care, and what message should they get out of this).

The phrase “like waves of the sea” is used to describe how destruction will come to the nation of Tyre. Now, in historical terms, Tyre is known to us as Phoenicia, the great trading nation of the Mediterranean Sea. So the ocean metaphor is appropriate, but it seems that there is a more practical intention for using that analogy of destruction.  It is often said that no man is an island; meaning that one who stands alone is very vulnerable. Phoenicia was no different and relied upon its extensive trading agreements and alliances to fuel its economic power, and ensure that it had strength to maintain its established domain. More importantly, because of its exuberant prosperity, other nations actively pursued a stable relationship with them. We could say it was a popular thing to do to foster a normalized trading relationship.  Therefore, it would seem that political and military threats were minimized.   To quote Billy Squire:  “….Everybody wants you”.

For destruction to be complete then, Phoenicia would have to become isolated and everyone turn away from them.  To coin another phrase, “…the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”  Phoenicia’s fall (Tyre’s fall) is great indeed. Over time they are invaded by Babylon for 12 years. Alexander the Great’s campaign burns the city and isolates what’s left of them onto their last remaining island.  Egypt and Rome battle over what remains of the area until there is no more Tyre and eventually we are left with what is today’s Lebanon.  So, there are your waves of the sea, one invasion come sweeping in after another.

But why should Ezekiel care?  He’s sitting in the middle of the Babylonian desert along with the thousands of other Jewish captives…over 550 miles away as the crow flies. Not to mention that his entire focus is pretty much on the spiritual condition of his own people and the dire warnings about his own nation’s impending collapse.

Further, why should we care that Ezekiel cared?

The answer to these questions is indeed critical.  It brings perspective to much of what Ezekiel spends so much of his time criticizing the Jerusalem government about.  In the next three blog entries, I’ll go further into this impactful section of the Book of Ezekiel where we will discover a range of socio-economic factors that can be traced directly to the conditions of social injustice that ultimately lead to the downfall of Jerusalem.  It will become painfully obvious as well that, because of these three chapters in Ezekiel, the content and warning of the Book of Ezekiel, is extremely contemporary and revealing into the nature of our culture today.

Next up, What’s it like “getting in bed” with neighboring sailors/businessmen and the ultimate example of “fair weather friends”.     Stay tuned.

 

Ezekiel blog: A heartbreaking death

Blogging my way through the book of Ezekiel has carried me to chapter 23.  This is the end of the whole sequence of visions and lessons that Ezekiel has been carrying in order to help his people realize the reality of events that have transpired, and what is about to happen to their beloved city of Jerusalem.  This chapter really marks a true division of the Book of Ezekiel in terms of the theme of what is being presented.

So how is this marked? What is the division?

It starts with God telling Ezekiel to make note of this specific date which is interpreted as January 15, 588 BC.  This is the date that the actual all out seige has been laid around the walls of Jerusalem. It is no longer a boogy-man of the future, something that may happen. It’s real, it’s now.  To describe it, Jerusalem is described as a cooking pot put on the fire. Whatever is in the pot winds up getting roasted.  And this is described as a formal “Woe” to the city of bloodshed.  City of bloodshed is a far cry from a lantern on a hill.

Even in this imagery, the stubborness of the leadership of the city is brought to our attention yet again. The poetic verse talks of cooking all of the pieces of meat down until they are charred and burned leaving an encrusted deposit on the cooking pot. If you’ve ever had to scrub out cast iron pans after frying up some kind of meat for dinner, you know how that can be really hard to get clean.  To me this is the same message that Frank Fools Crow, a great Lakota spiritual leader, once discussed in a book interview.  He referred to those who choose to follow the sacred ways as ‘hollow bones’ which allow the Spirit to flow to the community.   A life of prayer and sacrifice was necessary to help clear out everything that tends to get in the way of the flow of Spiritual blessings.

In the second poetic section, the pot is placed directly on the hot coals until the copper glows with heat.  That is not successful either, even in this extreme circumstance.  God is quoted as saying, “….it has frustrated all efforts, and the deposit still remains….”   Ezekiel is telling us that God is frustrated by the way Jerusalem can not seemed to be cleaned out.  I’m not sure that ascribing the human negative emotion of Frustration to God and declaring that to be God’s primary impetus of action for this event is accurate.  However, I can not fault Ezekiel for trying to interpret and explain how God is viewing a situation of human creation.

But the emotion described here is an effective transition for the heartbreaking event that is to come next.  And it is one of the few times that Ezekiel drops back into first person.  God tells him that he is about to take Ezekiel’s wife from him – the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes.  This is to happen that same evening. No one, especially Ezekiel is to outwardly morn the passing of his wife.  This is to symbolize the way that God will not be morning the destruction of Jerusalem, and by way of example, the people in captivity are not to mourn either.  Literally, there was nothing of value there, nothing that was good, so there is no need to keep pining away in hopes of returning to the good old days back in Jerusalem.

This is such a stark contrast to how Jesus remarked on Jerusalem as he approached that great city in later years.  In Luke 19:41-44 we are told that Jesus wept and mourned the coming destruction of Jerusalem (once again for the same reasons Ezekiel was describing).  In other verses, Jesus calls out his ultimate desire to gather the people of Jerusalem together like a hen gathers her chicks.  It is regret that we are confronted with, a regret that stems from a man made situation for which there seems to be no remedy.

And so, this entire cycle of prophetic council ends in the silence of death, for at this time, there was no message of anything to come beyond that.

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?

 

Ezekiel Blog 7: an Onerous task, lying about

Hi, thanks for coming back to my expeditions into the experiences of Ezekiel.  At present I am working through the 4 signs of the prophet found in Ezekiel chapter 5.

Firstly Ezekiel was commanded to draw a picture of Jerusalem and simulate siege against it. Now we are presented with a most puzzling condition to observe; that of a prophet of God being told to go to bed.  This is enough to catch anyone off guard, but if you look closely at this, there is something compelling about this directive to our guy Ezekiel.

I keep trying to consider what Ezekiel must have been thinking or feeling, and I admit this must have been very perplexing to him. How does this relate to Moses?  To us, in modern times and familiar with Christian perspectives, the concept of “bearing the sins” of Israel relates very strongly to the actions of Jesus.   And yet, Moses too complained about the heavy burden of leading his people which weighed on him.

More importantly, Moses and Ezekiel had a similar task at that moment.  In both cases, their people wanted desperately to return to the lace that they knew, the place where everything was familiar – to go back to just the way it was.  And here is God saying no, we’re going to take over a year to sit here and consider what I’m about to do to Jerusalem and why.  Here is my warning and at the same time, here is my mercy.

It is at this point that Ezekiel must have connected the dots so to speak. The directive is to meditate on Jerusalem, meditate and think on the disasters about to come upon the remaining inhabitants.  He thinking about the plagues about to come, and that he was the one bringing tidings of this kind – just like Moses.  Heavy burden indeed.

But that is not all. God wanted him to take on physical attributes of this pause before the real storm. Ezekiel was to lie in his bead on only one side for “X” number of days to represent the same number of years for one house of Israel, and then “Y” number of days to represent the same number of years of the other house of Israel; in the later case, it was 40 days to represent Judah.

He is to prophecy with outstretched arm, while lying in bed,  over the image of Jerusalem and relate over and over again that things about to befall that city. How mentally, emotionally, and spiritually grueling it must have been.  Further, to look at the image of the besieged city as you go to sleep, and to have that as the first thing you see every single day for over a year.

Here in again we gain a glimpse at the way God chooses to interact with his people. Ezekiel’s behavior must have been perplexing to his neighbors and to the Elders of Israel in exile as they came to visit him. To his family, it must have been distressing to see how this weighed on Ezekiel.  But through all that, it must have been fiercely visible how dedicated was Ezekiel’s contemplation of Jerusalem.  He was unswerving every day of that sign, his face was set towards Jerusalem and could not be turned.  This is the same way that Jesus was described on his final journey to Jerusalem.  One can almost picture God’s eyes, longing for the committed faith of his people as he gazes over the city of Jerusalem, much as Jesus’ eyes when he wept for the holy city.

No, the modern reader can not pronounce God to be an immediately vengeful God full of anger and destruction in the old testament. He did not just randomly fling disaster and judgment and plague in some capricious manner as depicted in the mythology of other nations.  As we will read further on, this is not mindless obedience God is seeking. Even in the next verses we see an interaction with Ezekiel that is focused on purpose and faith. God was looking for open acceptance of the principles of faith and justice, and an adherence to the call to come worship in prayer, in humility, in generosity and the spirit of compassion, all of which Israel had left at the door as they came running to bow before their newly adopted practices of idol worship.

Is it any wonder that God called one man, once again, to come out into the middle of a desert, to teach him about faith, faith that is not bound to this place or that place, this rock or that rock, etc. Just faith, just truth,  just prayer, just trust.