In any story, in any narrative, there comes a point where the voice of the storyteller shifts. It doesn’t always happen. But, in most cases where someone is trying to convince you of something, or dissuade you of something, the tension will rise around how active the verbs are. To that point, I remember my history professor in college challenging me to get out of passive voice and into active voice.
What does this have to do with Ezekiel Chapter 16? As I was reading through some more of this chapter, I was struck by a couple of key sentences, verses 15 & 16 specifically. The tone became very different as we hear God’s complaint get voiced in such a way such that we begin to hear the emotional overtones of betrayal and dismay. Everything said from the beginning of the chapter was in first person. “I” did this, and “I” did that ….all for you. Verse 15 starts in with “But you did this”, and “you did that”. You, You, You.
I thought that the phrase, “You trusted in your beauty” was an interesting way to begin things. God is full of astonishment and disappointment at Israel whom he has brought forward from humble beginnings, through all the growing pains, little by little gaining grace and beauty, who has now taken a possessive ownership of that very same beauty. Israel basically says, “thanks, but it’s mine just the same” – a sort of self justification for any action yet to be taken. It’s a form of arrogance that dismisses the gentle process of guidance towards perfection and revels in the apparent state of arrival as if nothing has happened before this point.
That devaluation is further characterized in the second half of that sentence where God continues, “and you used your fame to become a prostitute”. So not only did you devalue the entire partnership and loving care to get you to this point, you chose to spend what remaining value you had towards a short term increase in popularity that was completely false. “You used this – to become that”. The next several verses use the verb “took”, as in “You took this – and did that with it”.
So: Trust, Use, Took.
Looking at those three verbs, they don’t seem that harmful or out of sort at first glance. In cases like this, I find that working backwards is instructive.
Beginning with “took”, why is it took and not receive. Every asset mentioned was freely given by God to his cherished Israel. It reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son that Jesus told. One son demands everything and cashes it in. The other son is jealous of lavish attention while forgetting that he has access to anything of the household by the grace of his father. Do I continually go to God with demands of what I want? It has always been a point of work for me to try to be aware of what I have received – most times without even asking. Some people refer to this as the discipline of being thankful. I think that is part of it, but it is also a discipline of recognizing all the little steps and pieces that are continually there supporting you even though things may be hard and you feel burdened. To me, it’s not to dismiss my feelings of anxiety, pain, or sorrow over hard issues, but a reminder that there is a presence working with me.
Next up, “use”. That’s not so bad one would think. We do that kind of thing all the time such as use the butter knife to butter toast. Use the phone to say hello. Except – “use” implies autonomous control; and said autonomous control implies ability to make responsible choices. When God says “…you used your fame to become a prostitute”, God is questioning the overall sense of good judgment that Israel claims to have. This is not what the proud Father of Israel intended as a beacon on the hill for all to see. It all was thrown away and became as nothing. What a waste. The message of Ezekiel is that you don’t use what God has given you for dark purposes. You don’t let your own judgment seduce you into thinking your very limited vision is greater than God.
Which leads us to “Trust”. The accusation is that Israel ceased placing faith and trust in the God that lead them out of Egypt and began to place their trust in their own self-concieved political maneuverings; buying and selling favors, etc. Jeremiah had given the same warning:
Much is going on in this chapter, a lot of emotion, a lot of tension. And, it forces me to ask questions of myself:
How aware am I of receiving what God is ready to give? How will I know when these things come along – am I even looking?
Am I taking and then using? or am I trying to align my efforts with what God already has going on around me? How do you know what God already has going on?
Who am I trusting in? Is it my own agenda, my own sense of wisdom? Am I praying for the success of my own maneuverings, or placing faith in what God is doing?
I am not sure I know the answers to these questions all the time. I suspect that my answers change from time to time. I suspect that is what it means to be an imperfect soul.