Ezekiel blog: What’s with the signpost?

More of me blogging my way through Ezekiel – trying to find some fresh air and some open country.  Wrapping up some final thoughts on Ezekiel 21.

I can’t let this chapter go without commenting on some other drama that is going on in Chapter 21.  It seems our exasperated prophet is required to go back to his earlier method from way at the beginning of the entire book. Remember all his symbolic acts and signs which were designed to draw attention to overlooked truths of his people’s current situation?  Yeah, so here we go again.

Ezekiel is told to draw out roads to both Jerusalem and to the Ammonites (and their insults).  There is supposed to be a fork in the road and at that point Ezekiel is supposed to put a sign post pointing the way to Jerusalem so that the King of Babylon can speedily move on to his appointed conquest.

Ok. Pretty sure that the King had his own scouts and had a fairly good idea of where the major city of Jerusalem was. So what’s with the sign post?

Firstly, I’d like to draw attention to the fact that we are told explicitly who the players are here. We know that the “Sword” is the King of Babylon, because it plainly is written in those terms. Ezekiel is all about very clear and plain explanations and identifications.  This assertion I’m making here flies fully in the face of common attempts of interpretation for the four major prophets of the Old Testament. Usually we readers are treated to mystical descriptions and sound bytes on the History channel about how the prophets hid secret messages in their writings, or how it’s hard to identify who they are talking about in their oracles. Rubbish. It only requires the proper framework – a signpost – at the right point to help follow the narrative.  Ezekiel, along with the other prophets was not concerned in the least about leaving clues to help identify explicit historical events. He, and the other prophets, were trying to minister to their people and restore their faith. That was the goal and that was the message.

In the case of Babylon, we are given some behind the scenes information here.  It’s not an accident.  A road is being prepared and it’s a road that is meant to be traveled. What’s more, God will use the language and methods of the Babylonian tradition to send a message. God speaks to the King in a way he can understand, and by this the King chooses to complete the work of subduing Jerusalem.

Now, here we are given a taste of something unusual.  Notice that God is clearly choosing a non-Jew, a non-Priesthood person, to convey His work.  Babylon is the instrument of action in delivering the judgment. Here, at this point, the Temple is to be destroyed. It is no longer the place of God’s habitation. We’ve already established this when Ezekiel was called out into open country in the middle of the desert. It is to be a perfect destruction lasting 70 years. And at the end of that time, another man “Cyrus, King of Persia” is chosen by the Lord to pave the way for the people of Israel to return and rebuild the Temple.  Again, the instrument of the Lord’s work is someone not of the Holy People, someone from outside the establishment of their faith.

Do we get the message here that Ezekiel is trying to portray?  God established back in Judges that if the people abandoned their faith and followed other gods and idols, that He would destroy their places of power and might. The people have lost their faith. Ezekiel is saying, “…see, God is doing what He said He would, when we have not done what we said we would do.”  So the trick is to then get God to say something else that he would do and stick to our side of the covenant this time – to have faith. And, it is 70 years later that Daniel repents on behalf of all Israel and asks if they can go home and rebuild the covenant.   Book of Ezra – great stuff – go read it.

God chooses his servants where ever they may be. They are known by their response – they hearken and obey the call. That servant may not be one of the fold. That servant may not fit the standard image established by the majority.  That servant may not be of the pure people. But that servant belongs to God. Who are we to say otherwise against the Lord’s appointed.

And God draws roads and pathways through the desert and mountains so that the work may somehow be accomplished. God sends prophets to set up sign posts that point the way.   And sometimes, there is more than one objective to what God is trying to accomplish.  In this case, guess who’s next.  Take a number, Ammonites….and all your insults.

It appears that God does not take well to name calling and insults.  Words to the wise listener.

 

 

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Ezekiel blog: Sword song

My continuing exploration of Ezekiel as I blog my way though a new framework for understanding his writings.

I know I said I was done with Chapter 20, but that wasn’t entirely true. There are a couple of things that lead us into Ezekiel chapter 21.

The first, is this section:
Ezekiel 20:34-35New International Version (NIV)

34 I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. 35 I will bring you into the wilderness of the nations and there, face to face, I will execute judgment upon you.

Modern English editors have put the chapter divisions and chapter descriptors in modern Bible’s, but the writing wasn’t always divided this way. However, in it’s current format, the section above is a bit of foreshadowing of the next whole chapter, while at the same time continues to tie into the original Exodus-Judges retelling that Ezekiel is working through.

The key term from verses 34 and 35 is “nations”, and specifically “wilderness of nations”. Ezekiel has been exploring the national origins story with the captive people of Israel – now living in Babylon. Part of that story is of them wandering in the wilderness extremely vulnerable to any and all of the surrounding nations….literally a wilderness of nations. God is saying to them now that He recognizes that they are pretty much in the same situation. And when they did wander, as described in the Pentateuch, God was able to speak to His people “face to face” as it were by way of the Ark of the Covenant. Which brings us fully back to the central theme of Ezekiel’s message: Returning to the faithfulness to the covenant with God. ****

On on the banks of the Jordan river, the people looked across and knew that a number of nations awaited them, already in possession of the promised land. In both Deuteronomy 7 and Judges**** there is sort of a role call of nations.

At the end of chapter 20, we see the beginning of that attention to the nations at large when Ezekiel is called to prophecy against the forests of the South. Forests have always been interpreted as referring to large groups of people. Starting from the South simply points out that often the leaders of Israel had dubious relationships with Egypt and other southern countries. But God had commanded that the people go quietly into Babylon and not look to Egypt for salvation.

Instead, Chapter 21 starts with a Bank! All the waiting and warning is over, armies are on the mover, and events are beginning to unfold. Ezekiel is told to prophecy against the sanctuary. Now, just a few paragraphs ago, back in chapter 20 God was saying that He would gather His people to worship at his sacred mountain and there he would accept their offerings. Apparently, His sacred mountain, and the sanctuary in Jerusalem are two different things. And the sanctuary was definitely part of the temple, which means that in one sense, Ezekiel was being asked to speak against the church. Given previous exhaustive descriptions, we can conclude that the church had descended into a fallen state of disgrace.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Ezekiel says that the Lord’s judgement will sweep from South to North, which is an expression of completeness where everyone will be affected. I guess sometimes God likes to do things in a big way.

Then Ezekiel gives us a sword song, a blunt piece of poetry about the sword that God will use to enact his justice. Historically, sword songs were used as part of preparatory ritual combat preluding to actual war. Sort of like charging up in the locker room. But that is really not the importance here.

The significance of this sword poem is two-fold. Primarily it is a device that is sort of like that scene in Lord of the Rings where the signal goes up from Mordor announcing that the enemy army is moving out to war in full force.  Something as significant as an imperial army bringing the actual ruin of Jerusalem and the formerly holy Temple of Jerusalem, and that such an act is aligned with God’s will, deserves some fanfare. Much more effective than saying something like: And then God destroyed the city,…just like we’ve been saying. ‘nough said.

The second significance of this poem is that it reminds us of the Song of Deborah, back in the book of Judges. It is yet another parallel in this method of understanding Ezekiel’s imagery. In both cases, the will of God was being expressed in times of war and the poem/song was being used to bring the people back to a state of remembrance.

As always, I try to find little bits an pieces that I can grab ahold of at a personal level. The one phrase that keeps coming back to me is something that was stated in verse 34. There is a sentiment there, even though the overall picture is grim.  “I will gather you from where you have been scattered” (paraphrased).  Specifically, this is referring to the political reality of those people in that time. But part of me also responds to the condition of being scattered where-ever.  To have that hope that it is possible to be gathered back together, even if it is to be judged according to my own actions, it means that all is not lost – all the pieces of me are not lost and can be gathered together again.  At the end of all the chaos, there is a point to come to the truth of matters with God. Is that not, in the smallest, most private sense,….prophecy?