Ezekiel blog 68: Name of a city

At last we come to Ezekiel’s final chapter, chapter 48. He is about to complete his vision of the restoration of his people, those who are captive under guard in Babylon to their tribal lands in Israel. He sees this as an opportunity to fairly reallocate lands to each tribe, to establish the royal/sacred city, and offer some final comments about the equity of it all.  It is a roll-call of all the tribes in Israel and an establishment of their place.  To each a name is given, to each a gate is named and given.

This leads Ezekiel to the last sentence of his prophecy – the name of the city:  “The Lord is There”.  So what’s in a name?  It’s just a name, right?  In this case, Ezekiel has loaded the name with all kinds of meaning.

By writing the name of the city at the very end, he is indicating that everything else must be accomplished first, and that when everything that has been described in the visions has been faithfully carried out, then the city will receive it’s name.  The name itself takes us back to Ezekiel chapter 11 where Ezekiel sorrowfully reports that the Lord has removed himself away from the city and land of Jerusalem.  So, by achieving all within the visions which lead up to this last chapter number 48, it is an act of faith inviting the Lord to resume residence in a place made sacred through offering, sacrifice, and prayer – all acts of faith.

This was meant as a final enticement to Ezekiel’s fellow captives, something concrete that they could hold on to as they endured their captivity. This entire vision could be accomplished and they would once again become a holy people. This was an immediate hope, not a hope of someday thousands of years in the future, etc. etc.

Ezekiel writes, “…from that time on…” by which he is indicating that this vision, this restoration of faith, is just a beginning point, not the end goal.

Ezekiel is a book of beginnings, not of the end. It is a book of hope amid destruction and despair. Ezekiel’s writings are a pathway through judgement and condemnation towards cleansing and rededication.

Ezekiel ministered with his entire soul, and desperately carried an arduous vision on behalf of his people so that they might live.

 

 

Ezekiel blog 66: The playground slide

Ezekiel chapter 46 is Ezekiel’s way of showing that God is not an oblivious parent and that selfish behavior, or ‘getting away with it’, is not acceptable.

Ever take a child to the neighborhood playground and watch them climb around on jungle-gym/slide combo equipment?  Seems like as often as not that there is someone’s kid hanging around at the top of the slide making it difficult for the other kids to take a turn at the slide. You know the situation, you’ve seen it before.  The kid goes down the slide and then turns around and walks back up the slide to take another turn. This blocks up the whole pattern and builds frustration with the other kids who are patiently waiting to share the slide. It is a selfish, and self centered behavior that is encouraged every time that child’s parents are oblivious to the actions of their own children.

For the most part, children are still growing and learning, but adults should know better.  That is the point that Ezekiel was making in this chapter, and it is a point that is consistent with themes from his other chapters.

At verse 9, Ezekiel makes an astonishing directive. Anyone who enters the temple through the north door, must leave through the south door – including the Prince. He’s supposed to follow the same path as everyone else.  Anyone who enters the temple through the south door, must leave through the north.

It would seem that Ezekiel’s sense of practicality is surfacing here.  Though this may sound trivial, there is common sense here because it prevents the very scenario I describe in the introduction of this chapter regarding the playground slide. There is no possibility that someone with an inflated sense of self-importance could enter the door to the inner sanctuary and post ‘body-guards’ to block the way for everyone else until they come back out.  This arrangement goes a long way towards discouraging a VIP mindset among the self-described elite.

The other message is that sharing is a two way street.  In a very real sense, Ezekiel envisioned a community of holy worshippers who came to this place of offering, sacrifice, and prayer, all sharing it equally. To that end, sharing requires both giving and receiving. Giving way for others to come before the Lord, receiving a place to worship in turn.  Sharing is always a two way street because it empowers healthy respect for others as well as a healthy self-respect. It can start with one person, one side of sharing, but should spread to the other side, the other person, if it is done with the right spirit.  If it is not doing that, then it is not sharing.

The very end of the chapter 46 is an interesting little bit of functional sharing.  It became more clear when I built the 3D model in minecraft.  Verses 22-24 describe the roasting pits, or outdoor cooking areas placed in each corner of the outer court.  This is the area that has all those equal sized rooms all along the avenue.  In today’s terms, these are Bar-B-Q pits stationed equally around the area where the priests are to cook the people’s offerings. No backlogging here, take it and go please.  But in this way, it emphasizes the point that even among the priesthood that serve the temple, there is enough for all and there are not special areas for some and not for others.

Ezekiel has proven true to his themes yet again in this whole passage: fairness, sharing, equality, justice, service, and consideration.

Ezekiel blog: The headline that never was

Ezekiel chapter 43 describes the return of the Lord’s glory to the site of the newly rebuilt temple.   In computer programming languages, the key word “IF” is very powerful as it represents a conditional set of actions based on a choice or decision point. Embedded in this chapter, in many translations is the word “IF”. Some translations of this chapter of Ezekiel use the conditional statement “When” – somewhat more optimistic, but still an implied decision point. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Firstly, Ezekiel has brought us to his crowning (almost) ending of his visionary vista of reward to the faithful. In his vision, the Temple has been rebuild according to the new specifications, all preparations have been made by a faithful people, and the glory of the Lord is seen returning through the East facing gate. Once God has taken up residence, the East gate is to be closed and no one is to ever traverse that gate again – though the prince may pray from that gate….but no one else.

Now, it is important to read what Ezekiel states in verse7, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places.”     It is a very specific indication.  This place, this temple, rebuilt exactly as specified, and sanctified exactly as specified, manned by the priesthood exactly as specified is the place of God’s throne and where His feet will walk.   The corollary is that if it is not exactly this place, then it will not be the place of God’s throne.

Why is that important?

It is significant because this sets up an ideal set of circumstances which will meet God’s indication of faithfulness with regard to the people of Jerusalem now in captivity. There is also that pesky “IF” clause in verse 11 eg. “…If they are ashamed of all they have done,…” they will adhere to these specifications as detailed in Ezekiel’s vision.  It is a test of faith to restore the centerplace of faith according to these instructions.  This was the plan, this was the vision, this was the end goal.

In reality, what actually happened was very different. Recorded in Ezra chapter 3 we find that the returning people of Israel took a different course of action. This is described in verse 2: “….built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.”  In other words, they eschewed the instructions of Ezekiel and went back to doing things according to the way Moses described.  There is also indication in the same chapter of Ezra that the people began reconstruction after the manner of David, again not Ezekiel.

Finally, Ezekiel specified a line of priesthood from the family of Zadok. In actuality, the people resumed usage of the entire Levitical priesthood as described by Moses. And they built the alter and began offering burnt offerings according to the Mosaic tradition. Ezekiel had detailed a series of offerings specifically designed to dedicate the alter, and then had envisioned a more streamlined set of offerings for the people.  None of that happened.

So, what do we conclude from this?

Well, an entire generation had been raised in the time between Ezekiel’s vision and the time the people were allowed to return to their homeland. That means the interim generation had to have been taught about their religious traditions. Given that Ezekiel was performing his ministry for the first 25 years of their exile, and he detailed his visions and explained them at length to the religious leaders remaining with the people. Since the people chose to go with the traditions of Moses rather than the teachings of Ezekiel, we can only surmise that there must have been a power struggle among the religious leaders of Israel while in captivity, and that the traditional hold-outs won out over the new visions of Ezekiel.

However, as determined earlier in this thesis, Ezekiel was no ordinary priesthood member, nor was he to be considered an ordinary prophet. He was a prophet beyond reproach because of his education and standing as a Priest of the Temple, something no other prophet can claim.    His vision was very specific and detailed as would be expected by one so educated.

But the conclusion is inescapable.  Since the people chose to rebuild the temple after the manner of Moses and David, and not after the new vision of Ezekiel, then the rebuilt temple did not meet the requirements of faith which God had stipulated with his “IF” statement. As such, the second temple or rebuilt temple could not have been the place as described in chapter 43 verse 7 where God says, “…this is the place of my Throne…”

And if that incarnation of the temple was not the holy and sacred ground where God walked, then certainly the third incarnation, Herod’s Temple, could not have been either. The fact that the temple was destroyed again and that Herod’s Temple was also destroyed gives makes this claim credible.  Additionally, at the end of Ezra chapter 3, it says the old men wept when the foundation of the rebuilt temple was laid.  The old men may have remembered the teachings of Ezekiel (speculating only on this), while the younger folks shouted for Joy.

Not discounting religious tradition, or mocking the religious significance of a place as described by a people or community, but ask yourself this:  If that temple site is not the sacred ground where God walks, nor the seat of His throne, then isn’t the remaining temple site we see today just another place on the planet, just another piece of rock?  In other words, why was there so much killing associated with that place, and such a desire for possession? Why were the crusades launched to capture the “holy city” when in reality, it was just a regular city with a lot of history? Is it worth the struggle for possession today, with each of the major religions all claiming that it is their sacred site?  Really?  God doesn’t seem to think so.

Food for thought.

 

Ezekiel blog: Minecraft fly-thru of Ezekiel’s temple part 2

Ezekiel chapter 41 is about the actual temple building within the Temple complex that Ezekiel envisioned. There is a tremendous amount of detail and measurements about the door, the inner hall, the altar, the main chamber called The Most Holy Place, etc.  It’s easy to get bogged down in all this, which is why I made the video fly-through tour.

Ezekiel Chapter 41 Temple Fly through via Minecraft video

However, Ezekiel’s mission has not changed. The detail provided here is to assure his people of the sacredness of this intended place of prayer and worship and to give them a vivid sense of reality about the structure, to imagine in precise detail.  There is symbology associated with the structure and the orientation of the doors and the gates all of which is a matter of debate and interpretation.

Of note to me, is the orientation of the building and main hall opening to the east, with the altar fire as the focal point.  This has certain tribal connotations as well as emphasizes the overriding function of the entire complex is to enable the people to be able to come to a place of prayer, sacrifice and worship.  As we’ll get into later, all of the staff – the priests of the temple – are dedicated to this purpose, and not to the purpose of self-promotion, self-grandizement, or self-exceptionalism.

This building is about fairness and equality through and through.

 

Ezekiel blog: Chapter 40 Minecraft Fly-through of Ezekiel’s temple part 1

Greetings folks. It’s been a while since I’ve posted and I thought it was time to continue on to the conclusion of this blogging project.  My family challenged me to try to build a visual representation of Ezekiel’s Temple from his series of visions beginning with Ezekiel chapter 40.  So I used the video game Minecraft to create this video which is a fly-through of a 1/4 size replica based on the dimensions Ezekiel provided.

It was an  interesting exercise.  By making the words take actual shape, it was possible to see that there were other concerns that Ezekiel was addressing rather than only architectural requirements.  As you walk through the complex, some things about how he envisioned religious life should be become more clear.

You can get to it here at Ezekiel Temple Minecraft Tour Chapter 40

This first video gives just an overview of the complex itself – much like the gist of chapter 40.  In my next videos, I’ll continue the tour as Ezekiel himself describes his vision.  Along the way, I’ll share some points that we can infer from how things are designed.

Note: If you follow my blog, and are Native/Indigenious, be sure to take note of how the Temple is oriented with regard to the directions. It might be of interest to you.

 

Ezekiel blog: Dem Bones – seriously – Dem bones

I’ve already touched on Ezekiel chapter 37 in the earlier 4 chapter bundle (chapters 36-39).  Again, there are just a few points I’d like to highlight for this chapter.  First we have to address the obvious reference in the title of this entry. Yes, the famous spiritual song “Dem Bones” was inspired by Ezekiel chapter 37.   (Please see this Wikipedia reference for detail: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dem_Bones ).

This has undoubtedly made this chapter one of the more famous chapters of Ezekiel’s writings.  What is interesting is that as a result of skipping the rest of the entire Book of Ezekiel and jumping to this chapter, some have taken the position that this chapter was intended to justify or validate the Christian theology of Life after Death.  Afterall, the chapter describes dry bones – human remains – being reanimated back to life.

However, this brings me back to one of the fundamental principles of the analysis model I’m using to work through Ezekiel’s writings; it brings me to where the name of this blog actually comes from.  I’m searching for free and open country, a place of thought that isn’t bound by assumptions arising from a pre-fabbed theological approach.  Assuming that this major Prophet, one of the four major prophets, of the Old Testament was concerned with outside or external validation is a critical mistake for any reader of prophetic work.

Ezekiel himself had one, maybe two, purposes for most of what he wrote; to give his people hope while in bondage, and to encourage them to return to their true faith.  This was not an exposition into resurrection theology as that was unknown to the Jews of that time period. It was not part of their religious world.

To presume the scope of this writing pertains to a religion other than that which Ezekiel was most familiar with (his own), would be in err.  For instance, suppose we have a reader of this chapter who believes that anytime winds blow from all four directions at the same time that the beholder is about to receive good fortune.  Then that reader comes across Ezekiel chapter 37 and reads the text about the winds breathing life back into the bones.  That reader could suppose that his personal religious views had just been validated.  A Christian reader would be dubious of that presumption. Even so, Christian readers must be careful not to presume the presence of their own theology.

Therefore, this passage about dry bones nothing to do with Christian theological views on the afterlife.  It has much more to do with justice in the face of persecution, and the eventual restoration of Israel as a unified nation to its sacred ancestral place.

From a ‘return to faith’ perspective this vision reminds the captives in bondage of their origins, the story of Genesis  (something that Priest of the Temple, like Ezekiel, would be trained to teach).  In Genesis, it is the Breath of God, the wind entering the body formed of earth, which brings to life Adam. Similarly, it was the Breath of God, or the wind, which separated the waters of the Red Sea, thereby providing  means of escape to the people of Israel and granting them life.   So Ezekiel draws them back to a remembrance of the power of the Breath of God and how it might pertain to them.

Lets also look at where these bones are….in a valley.  That is a very low place. That is where victorious armies throw the dead and vanquished – it’s not a place of honor. It’s not a battlefield.  These bones are not an army waiting to be returned to life as one commentary stated.   These are the bones of all who have been cast aside, those who have suffered from the injustices of the privileged elite of Jerusalem.  These are the bones of all who were carried far from their homes and find themselves wanderers in a strange land.

Freeing Israel from the bonds of their captivity, the graves into which they have fallen in the distant lands of their exiles is a message of hope to his people, to his fellow captives. It tells them that not only redemption is possible, but that justice is an aspect of God whom they worship. If they would only return to their true faith, then these qualities would reappear in God.  This is entirely consistent with Ezekiel’s overall purpose in writing from the very beginning of his book.

My last note for this chapters is that Ezekiel shows us pure nature of true prophecy: speaking the word of God, telling the mind of God. His examples do not include mystically venturing into forecasting remote events of far distant futures.   Ezekiel’s exact descriptions of his process and of his visions negates most commentaries viewpoints on the following two chapters of Ezekiel 38 & 39. I say ‘negates most commentaries’ because most of the opinions I’ve read have focused on time periods wildly beyond the scope of all of the rest of Ezekiel’s.  Ezekiel’s mission is that of a restorer of faith to a lost people – giving them something to believe in that affects their lives and the lives of their children.

More on this in the next chapter.

 

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog: Point of the Mountain

Although I’ve covered Ezekiel 36-39 as a block, there are a few individual tidbits that require a little extra coverage. So, I’ll handle each chapter briefly, each in a separate post.

At the point of Ezekiel 36, The people have been through the wringer.  Ezekiel has explicitly drawn the entire picture of the defeat of Jerusalem.  Blame, recrimination, dodging of responsibility, shady business deals, absence of social justice, even shallower faith, and what-about-the-Joneses – it’s all been covered.  Judgment. Has. Been. Served.   ….so, um, now what?

I’ve now reached the 4 chapters (Ezekiel 36-39) that seem to be the most complex and hardest to put into a framework.  They are very abstract.  Ezekiel chapter 36 finally turns the focus of discussion towards possible future actions of God, actions that could also benefit the former people of Jerusalem. For, finally, there is the promise of a restoration, a time of rebuilding, a time for when the land is no longer barren.

Ezekiel seems to be painting a future tense picture of hope and in doing so gets back to a secondary theme of this entire exploration:  a prophet reveals the nature (thoughts, viewpoint, methods, and expressions) of God.  A true prophet spends more time explaining the mind of God than mystically foretelling future events.

To get us – the reader – there, Ezekiel has to walk us through a major point: No matter the action or outcome, it’s all for God’s benefit.

The Oxford Bible Commentary  has this to say about the first part of Ezekiel’s sentiments in this chapter, “Whether punishing or forgiving, YHWH acts, not for Israel’s sake, but to protect the sanctity of His name.”  p.557 {36:16-38 YHWH’s honor restored}   I agree with this summation of Ezekiel’s intent, as this has been clear through out much of Ezekiel’s writing.  It is the way that God accomplishes this which leaves the captives in Jerusalem baffled. Even so, it is an important point to keep in mind – God acts for the benefit of his own interests.

Funny how many people of “faith” opt to approach their faith on the premise that God owes them something or can be wrapped into some kind of deal where He owes them something. I, personally tire of hearing long prayers that are some sort of logical exhortation where the invoker of the prayer details a litany of all the good works they (or their congregation)  have done and how they know that they will be rewarded, or “Blessed” as is commonly used today, as a result of their humble (yet somehow passive/aggressive) efforts, etc. etc. etc.  It’s a process oriented incantation – nothing more.   Lets face this truth together, shall we: aggressive attempts to control the outcome of intention is by definition, magick as defined by Aleister Crowley eg. “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will”.   This, strictly speaking, is not faith.

Ezekiel tells us, with explicit clarity, that God does not work that way.  It did not work that way for all the priests of the Temple who prayed devoutly for refuge or deliverance from destruction for themselves, but not for the general population. It did not work that way for all the Jews in captivity in the Babylonian dessert to have a speedy return to their homeland,…and their property.  It really did not work for the workers and in cantors of the the various cults that made their way into the sacred Temple hallways.

So, Why not?

Ezekiel tells us that God takes actions according to His own counsel, and whether it is for the immediate benefit, or Not a benefit, it is for the sanctity of His own name.   That is a hard concept to swallow.  In other words, you and I can not do anything which supersedes God’s own purposes. If He chooses to build up a people, a group, a church, or a single person, it is for His own benefit.  The reciprocal process is also true.  So, the best a person of true faith can do, is to align their efforts the direction that God is moving.

An additional point that Ezekiel makes, from a theological standpoint, is the confirmation of the idea of personal agency.  He writes that God would take actions involving the people now in bondage in Babylon that  would “Move” them to follow the law.  It is an interesting choice:  Move.   He did not say “Make you to follow”.    So, for God’s own purposes, and for his own sanctity of name, He wanted to MOVE the people to follow His law.   To move someone involves engaging the heart, inspiring that person to invest in a personally motivated action. They are moved.

…and God’s sanctity is preserved.   This is what Ezekiel is talking about in Ezekiel chapter 36.

Ezekiel blog: Feuds that go nowhere

Ever have to sit one of your kids down for a time-out and all you hear is, “hey, he did it too!!!”, or “…she started it, blah, blah, blah”?  Yep.  Ezekiel has to deal with exactly that in Ezekiel chapter 35. Of course, that’s not exactly how it reads, but the timing of the chapter implies this quite a bit. So lets chalk that up to my interpretation.

Up to this point, Ezekiel has given us detailed (very long and thoroughly detailed) explanation of why all these judgments have come down on the people of Jerusalem.  There have been objections and extenuating circumstances, etc.   There has been an indepth analysis of all the business deals involving local partner countries which led to corruption.   And there have been the pointed lectures about taking responsibility and giving up on the “me first” attitude.

At this point in Ezekiel’s writings you can just imagine last ditch efforts to deflect some of the responsibility. And who do you deflect too?   Why the neighbors of course!   But what about those so-and-so’s over in Edom? They’ve always hated us and been mean to us, and, and, and….sniff. And to add insult to injury, Edom was useful in the final destruction of Jerusalem when Babylon invaded.

To be fair, the captive Israelites had somewhat of a point, a point which God does address.  It was true that there was deep seated enmity between the people of Jerusalem and the people of Edom. However,  the main objection that Ezekiel addresses is the avarice of the people of Edom. To be sure, this is the exact same criticism that Ezekiel leveled at his own people – the leadership of Jerusalem.   This false doctrine goes like this:  Other people suffering from misfortune and calamity is evidence of our blessed state, evidence of our holiness.     Ezekiel is very clear about this being a framework of sin.

In Edom’s case, the thought was now that the residents of Jerusalem are taken away captive and out of our hair, we get the spoils, we get the land, we get the houses, WE GET TO PROFIT AT THEIR EXPENSE.     Um, can you say “Self Justified Sense of Entitlement”????   not a good thing.

Ezekiel writes God’s disapproval of this ideology as such:
“Because you harbored an ancient hostility and delivered the Israelites over to the sword at the time of their calamity, the time their punishment reached its climax…….Because you have said, These two nations and countries will be ours and we will take possession of them,” even though I the Lord was there, 11 therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will treat you in accordance with the anger and jealousy you showed in your hatred of them and I will make myself known among them when I judge you.”

We are talking about a city/people who harbored ancient hostility. But that can apply to you or me just as well.   Harboring hostility.  Perhaps carrying around ancient grudges isn’t all that healthy at that. Perhaps that leads to desolation in the mountains of the heart.

Perhaps we can do better.

 

 

 

Ezekiel blog: Vol II – God does not keep score

Ezekiel chapter 33 is about many things. Many people get hung up on the ease of assigning a label to Ezekiel, that of Watchman.  One commentary I read makes that the theme of Ezekiel chapter 33.   If I had to summarize this section down, I’d go with “God is not in the business of keeping score”; more on this later.  As I said before, this chapter has many themes.

In the last blog entry, I stated that the first six verses were about communication and answering the question, “Who is responsible for the state I’m in?”

Moving on to verse 7 and beyond, it would be easy to look at this as simply Ezekiel’s calling being explained – he is the watchman, woe to any and all who do not heed, etc, etc.  However, I read a much more important theme and one that is very relevant to us living our lives in the world.  FAIRNESS.  Fairness is what is happening in this explanation.

Ezekiel is being told, and thus the elders of the Hebrews are being told, that there are no special cases, no instances that what applies to you does not apply to me. Just because a person is a member of the holy elite, does not mean that the same standards are not applied.  It’s clear when Ezekiel writes, “…If I tell you to warn, and you do not, then blood is on your hands”.   God does not play favorites, because God is not a respecter of persons.  This is a difficult concept for humans to get their arms around, but it is a common theme throughout all of Ezekiel’s writings.

We are then presented with an interesting adage making its way around the Israelites living in captivity.  Ezekiel records it like this, “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of  them. How then can we live?”  Elements of depression and self pity are laced through this, but also a hint of disavowal or abandonment of future responsibility.  Almost a resignation of what is as a permanent condition.

But the question, How can we live?  still remains.  And here we come across one of the rarely mentioned gems of the Old Testament, or Biblical scripture as a whole.  God tells Ezekiel something significant: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

So firstly, Ezekiel’s insight into the nature of God is that God is not sitting around with a scratch pad gleefully counting up transgressions and just waiting to pull the trigger on furious judgments and penalties.  Instead, God is expecting that people make choices, and continue to choose. God is hoping that people look at their lives and choose a path that leads towards a pattern of living that is consistent with the themes of justice, of fairness, of mercy, of faith.

Secondly, this is an absolutely unmistakable marker for free will and expression of free conscience, that rejects the notion that God is looking for a flock of minions that blindly do His bidding without question nor understanding.  In fact, Ezekiel phrases this as a plea from God’s own mouth asking the question, “Why will you die?…”  This is choice and nothing other than choice.  Ezekiel calls his people to examine their ways for what they are.   Reflect, examine, weigh, discern, judge, and then turn, make a change for the better,… and live. Are we not offered the same expectation, the same opportunity for expression of will, the same portent of our choices?

It is the same for each one, and that is Justice.

The final two points of this section of Ezekiel 33 come back to the idea that God is not an accountant of misdeeds but instead is a God of Justice and Fairness.  For the first point, it is important to keep in mind that God has His own ideas of what is just. The same goes for what is fair.

If we look at verse 12,  at first blush this seems to be a bewildering formula that borders on unfair, especially to those who view scripture as a line-by-line codex of laws and better-does. How can this be fair?  Someone who does good their entire life, and then makes one slip-up and they are condemned?  Oh, and someone spends an entire life living the high-life without regard to anyone else and then gets a free pass just because they turn over a new leaf at the very end?  That’s not right.  (This is also the specific root of the Last Rites, incantation – an attempt to wedge someone into heaven on the last open seat ticket).    Whaaaatt!!?

But that is not what Ezekiel is trying to convey because, it would imply that God is a score keeper, a craggy accountant sitting somewhere up in heaven with a clipboard making little checkmarks for every little action we do. Instead, Ezekiel is trying to point his people towards a state of living, a condition of community, where choices make a difference, and the value of another soul matters, a place where everyone has a stake in the balance of good and evil. Notice the examples that Ezekiel trots out to demonstrate a turning from bad choices:  the returning of unfair collateral for a loan, the return of stolen property of funds are the top two on his list. Fairness.

This mental/spiritual framework leads us to a conclusion that it is a state of living that God is trying to elevate his people, all of his creation for that matter, towards.  This is what Ezekiel refers to as “the decrees of life”.   In this sense, then, if you are living in the good way, and deviate away, then you detach from that state of holiness, that flow of the decrees of life, and are now on a path away from life as described earlier.  If you are not living in a good way, and turn, then you attach to that state of holiness, that flow of the decrees of life and are now on a path towards life as described earlier.  In this framework, it is all fairness as it applies equally to all people as God sees them.

And as for Justice?  Well, this is God’s own complaint.  As Ezekiel informs us, the Hebrew people that are in Babylonian captivity seem prone to expressing their frustration in the form of blame: God is not Just.   Verses 17 -20 are God’s rebuttal against that charge and a very direct explanation of the process of judgment from on high. It ends with a promise that God will indeed reserve judgment to Himself, and that He will keep on judging in His own Just way, ….according to our own actions.

So in the end, it comes down to our choices, our agency, our sense of living in a good way.  Who is responsible for my situation?  I guess I am.

We’ll finish up with Chapter 33 next time.  Lots of stuff in here, but it’s all good. Hang in there.

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.