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 13: Do you weep and sigh?

For those of you hanging in there with me on this blog, thanks for coming back. Chapter 9 and 10 of Ezekiel takes us to the steps of the temple sanctuary. These chapters go together and are really the completion of chapter 8.  So read these three like a trilogy of events.

These chapters are dark to be sure, and we are swept away in the motion of Ezekiel’s vision. The pages are laced with all types of symbolism, enough to get anyone lost.  Indeed, Angels sent to kill and destroy all who fall under the Lord’s Judgment, starting at the temple itself. No one is to be spared, and there will be no mercy. Ezekiel even pleads with God, asking if there will be none left at all – which is meant to show us how seriously Ezekiel takes what is about to happen.

But that really isn’t the point here at all.

The key to this chapter is the seventh angel who shows up with a writing kit.  He is commissioned to go out of the temple, out into the city of Jerusalem, looking for those who mourn.  He must find those who weep and sigh for the lost purity of faith that once was the hallmark of worship in the Temple. Notice that the angel is heading out into the city – why there?

It is there that the humble and down-trodden are kept at bay – far from where the popular and elite are welcomed for their show of worshipful acts (please see chapter 8 and look up the definition of disingenuous.) No, this angel is looking for what Jesus will later refer to as the “Pure in Heart,…for they will see God.”

They are not the ones who play-act in church, or flash a lot of money, or try to impress. These pure ones will be marked, marked with a Tau on their heads – sort of like a capital T only a little wavy and older versions looked closer to a cross.  They are marked so that they will not be destroyed by the other six angels who were instructed to kill everything else.

This should sound familiar, it takes us right back to the Moses story and the last of the ten plagues.  Remember at the beginning of this blog, I had the weird thought that Ezekiel’s vision had more to do with returning Israel to that state of faith where they followed God into the wilderness, out into the plains and desert.

So what is this, then? The prophet is telling us that God hears the individual – even without all the ritual and pomp.  God hears those cries and knows the sorrow. The individuals who choose the road of pure faith – surely they travel a hard path but one to which God is not blind.

It gives me some comfort that my sighs do not just evaporate into the afternoon air.  What I mourn for, though it is gone, there is a God who perhaps has marked a small hunger, that lives in my soul.  This section of Ezekiel, while grim, is yet very personal.  I once wrote in a song long ago:

I don’t want to be alone
When I kneel down and pray
I don’t want to hear echoes from empty walls.

I don’t want to hear silence
Where the kids used to play
I don’t want to be alone when I kneel down and pray.

I weep for the Spirit, and sigh for soul, my soul, and the soul of the community at large. I hope the Lord will find me and touch me with his mark.

 

 

Ezekiel blog 12: Fraudulent piety or welcome to the masquerade

I’m starting into Ezekiel chapter 8 – continuing on with this blog.  This passage starts things off in a very big way. We see our guy Ezekiel sitting in his house with the wiser heads of Israel, the elders or spiritual leaders, sitting with him.  At that moment, the hand of the Lord rests on Ezekiel and carries him away to another vision.  This time, it is to a very specific place and with a very specific objective so to speak.

Ezekiel is astonished to find that he is at the Temple itself, standing on the northern boundaries of the Temple complex. However, consternation fills Ezekiel as his vision is enhanced and he is suddenly able to see what is really going on here.  Remember that the purpose of revelation is to reveal the nature of God, to help us get a more clear glimpse as to what God sees and what God thinks about what He sees.  Prophetic revelation speaks to the truth of a situation and calls mankind to accountability, to justice, to humility and to faith.

Ezekiel, being brought to this most holy and revered place looks with dismay on an idol right there at the gate which leads to an alter of sacrifice. It says that idols is known for leading people to jealousy.  Hmmm.  Jealousy is akin to greed and selfish thinking.  Hardly worthy states of mind for people supposedly approaching the place of sacrifice and offering at the temple of the Lord. But, appearances must be maintained, don’t you know.

The vision continues and Ezekiel discovers that he can see through a hole in the wall. He is told to dig through the wall (amazing) and is horrified to see the Seventy Elders of Israel all burning incense and worshiping every personal idol and image of personal gain known to man at the time.  All of this is practiced behind closed doors, hidden from the sight of man, but not successfully hidden from God.

There is a word.  I looked it up in an online thesaurus. Disingenuous.  Ta da.  Look it up here.    It has many meanings, but in this case, I think “Feigned”, or “Duplicitous” gets my vote.   Because, that is what is going on here: disingenuous practice of faith. We call it lip service today. The same practice that God condemned in Ezekiel’s time, we see played out all the time in contemporary church life regardless of denomination. But I’ll end my rant there and move on with Ezekiel.

Getting back to Ezekiel’s vision,  we see the religious leaders, those who are supposed to be the teachers of Israel, putting on what is merely a show for the people who faithfully travel to the temple – a show put on for appearances sake.  But in their heart, in their real life, they are worshiping something quite different and more suited to their personal ambitions.   To which, God demands of Ezekiel:  See, see what they are doing?   Do you see why I am angry?

God is holding each of these four vignettes of this vision as evidence or justification for his judgements of Israel.  In many ways, it’s like giving Ezekiel a behind the scenes backstage pass.  The rest of the world sees an Angry, Judgemental God, Here we are allowed to see the offended God, offended by the actions of his supposed faithful.

And in the middle of all this, Ezekiel hears God ask the most pointed question:  “Do you see how they are driving my presence from this place?”  !!!!!!!!

Very important point here that goes back to chapter 1 when Ezekiel sees God out on the plain in the middle of the desert and wonders what God is doing there. So this is confirming that God has distanced himself from the temple, from that piece of ground. He is not a captive there, not tied to any one place. It was a matter of indulgence to His children that he allowed such a convenient and readily available place to approach the holiness of God. The Temple is now just a building, just another business front not worth special consideration.  And for all of the rebuilding efforts made by man in the following centuries, the temple never does regain its spiritual potency or eminence.

There are two more vignette’s of Ezekiel’s vision, each declared more profane than the last by God: Women practicing a local version of the Babylonian fertility god rituals – right there in the temple.  And last but not least, we have the men of Israel bowing down and worshiping the sun, right there beside the main alter of the Temple. Isn’t that nice?

This chapter is entirely about pulling the curtains back. It’s about discernment and seeing that there is a huge difference between being faithful, and presenting to the world the appearance of faith.  In the Gospels, Jesus is recorded as railing against the hypocrites of his time who wore the robes of Teachers of Israel, but who did not live according to the true law or according to true faith.

Ezekiel’s message is one of great relevance for us today – much as it was back then. It is very much a Christian message because Jesus carried it forward, back into that very same Temple. He mourned that “…the house of the Lord should be a house of prayer”, but it was not so.

Where is your house of prayer?  Mine is along the side of a mountain stream, or walking beneath a canopy of trees in the evening. It is out on a lake when the water is smooth as glass. It’s walking along a sandy beach while it is raining. My house of prayer is a field of grass on a sunny day.

Where is your house of prayer?