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 14: Fresh embers

This is my blog on the chapters of Ezekiel, and we’re up to Chapter 10 of Ezekiel.  It’s the end of this three chapter trilogy so to speak.

Since it’s the big finish, not very much happens from an action standpoint – of course.  Ezekiel spends lots of time on detail. He’s making sure that he, and the rest of us, are on the same page that this vision of a chariot is the exact same chariot that he encountered out on the desert plain where he received his calling to prophesy.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some crucial things going on here.  Something that catches my eye is that the angel from the last chapter who was to mark every person in Jerusalem that was still keeping the faith is now given a new task. The commentaries out there really do not go into very much detail on this. And, of course, with angels there is always a large level of symbolism to interpret. This presents a problem for the rest of us because interpretation is rather subjective.

Here’s my stab at it.  Since so much of Ezekiel’s vision draws him back to the original narrative of the Moses story and the Exodus, I have to wonder about the fires used in the original temple that Israel carried all over the desert.  Ezekiel chapter 40 talks about setting up the tabernacle.  It’s significant to me that Moses is instructed to set up the alter of burnt offerings FIRST, and then arrange the rest of the court, tabernacle, the ark, etc around this. In other words, priority is given to the place of worship and sacrifice on behalf of the people. It is specifically an annointed place when it is set up and readied for use.

God tells the angel to go to the alter of sacred fire which is part of the chariot that has been described.  An angel reaches in with his bare hands to bring out sacred coals. Only that which is pure can touch the fires of heaven. It is these coals that the angel in linen is directed to spread all over Jerusalem.

To me, this is God’s way of purifying the common places of Jerusalem where the faithful are still lingering, hidden away and mourning for their faith.  But more importantly, God is demonstrating that the steps of the existing temple where the current alter of sacrifice stands profaned is by no means the only place where the faithful may come to pray.  God is moving that capability out among the people, they may offer their sacrifice in the place where they are found.  Like Ezekiel, they can come out into the plain, out into the desert place to seek the Glory of God and present their sacrifice of a willing heart.

The Lord is then described as leaving the threshold of the Temple and moves to the chariot.  From their His Glory moves to the door of the Eastern gate, preparing to leave the temple complex altogether.  The Eastern gate, which looks to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, the gate through which Jesus approach Jerusalem.   That places is holy only in so much as the Lord resides there, and here we are told that he had vacated as it was no longer sacred to the people.

Similarly, our hearts are temples to the Lord only in so much as the Lord resides there.  Let the embers burn, let the offering burn as a freely given sacrifice. See that the Lord accepts the personal offering of faith.  Let the angel place the mark on me and record it before the Lord. So let it be written, let it be done.