The Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, February 16, 2020
The Book of Ezekiel
The Book of Ezekiel is the twenty-seventh book of the Bible. It has forty-eight chapters and one thousand two hundred seventy-three verses. Jewish and early Christian traditions both ascribe the book’s authorship to Ezekiel himself. Ezekiel started his call as a prophet while already in exile in Babylon (1:3). He was among the 10,000 officials who were exiled with King Jehoiachin by King Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC.
The prophets were not believed.
The people of Jerusalem did not believe that God could allow their nation to be overrun by another nation as Ezekiel and other prophets were saying. They were the people of God. The City of Jerusalem housed the temple of the God of the universe. The sacrificial system was in place although together with sacrificing to Yahweh, the people also sacrificed to and worshiped other gods. There was a false sense of security that supported the narrative that the people could go on sinning and blatantly and adamantly abandoning Yahweh, and Yahweh would just look the other way and keep on protecting the city because the Jews were his people. The prophets told them not to think that the presence of the temple in Jerusalem would prevent Yahweh from destroying the city if the people did not repent. Their words fell on deaf ears.
A false sense of security
The two exile periods of 605 and 597 did not fit the narrative of invincible security under the strong arm of Yahweh. So, an explanation for the misfortune of those exiles was invented by opinion leaders and it spread among the people: the exile was only temporary, and the people who had been taken to Babylon would soon return home to Jerusalem, and God would continue protecting the city. The people who were already in exile also caught the new sentiment and could not wait to be back home at any time. Jeremiah spoke in Jerusalem against this optimism and instead prophesied that Babylon would lord it over Judah and the surrounding nations for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12). In Babylon itself, there were false prophets who were whipping up peoples’ emotions promising them an early return home.
Living in Babylon away from Jerusalem, Ezekiel prophesied messages about the exile that corroborated Jeremiah’s. For example, Ezekiel was commanded by God to draw the City of Jerusalem on a tablet and to lay siege on it and surround it with battering rams to simulate the impending devastating attack by the Babylonians. This was to be a sign to the people that the city was going to be battered down, and that hope of imminent return home was misplaced. Ezekiel was commanded to use other object lessons to bring the message home to the people that Yahweh would destroy the city if there was no repentance. Ezekiel’s message produced no effect. He eventually spoke that he saw the glory of the Lord leave the temple so that the structure was rendered no longer the dwelling place of Yahweh and could, therefore, be destroyed. Still, the people did not change their ways.
The Book of Ezekiel can be divided into four parts:
- Judah’s sin and God’s judgment of it, 1:1-24:27
- The judgment of the nations, 25:1-33:20
- The promise of the return of Israel to Judea, 33:21-39:29
- The future Temple and worship, 40:1- 48:35
God is sovereign.
The Book of Ezekiel emphasizes the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign in Judah, in Assyria, in Babylon, in all nations, and everywhere. He is sovereign among those who recognize and seek to serve and obey him. He is sovereign among those who deny his existence. He is sovereign among those who live as if he does not exist. He is sovereign among those who actively hate him and persecute his followers. God is sovereign. Let the whole world hear it.
Ezekiel pictures to us in no unclear terms that God is totally the Holy Other, not us or like us, and that Israel sinned incorrigibly and God’s punishment of her was warranted. God is vindicated. Ezekiel passes the message across that if we persist in sin, judgment will come upon us in ways we cannot imagine. Every individual carries their own responsibility to God. But together with punishment, there’s always the hope of restoration when we eventually learn from our mistakes and repent.
The people of Israel had gone too far away from God. They even invented a saying, “The days go by and every vision comes to nothing” (12:22). This was a taunt to the prophets like Ezekiel, saying, “We have heard your messages of doom, but nothing has happened thus far. Why don’t you stop tiring yourselves! We will not do what you say we should do. We will not repent.”
Object lessons in Ezekiel:
An object lesson is a teaching method that utilizes a physical object or visual aid or demonstration to make the meaning of what is being taught come off the page or the words and into the brain. Ezekiel used object lessons a lot for the people of Israel to visualize his message. In the object lessons, the prophet was representing the siege of Jerusalem and the suffering that would ensue therefrom. The people could not miss the meaning and the fearsomeness of what was said by the prophet to be coming at them from Yahweh himself.
- Ezekiel shut himself away in his house, was tied with ropes so that he could not go out among the people, and he lost his ability to speak (3:24-27).
- He drew on a tablet a representation of the siege of Jerusalem with a ramp and battering rams and placed an iron pan between himself and the city (4:1-3). Those in exile hoping for an early return home should stop it. The place was going to be besieged and overrun by an enemy army.
- He lay on his left side for 390 days and 40 on his right side.
- He fixed a set number of meals for himself using human excrement. This was therefore defiled food. It was a picture of the defiled food the Israelites would eat in exile (4:10-13).
- He shaved his head and beard (5:1-4). He was told to divide the hair into three equal parts. One part he was to be burn, another to cut with a sword, and the third one to throw to the wind. This represented the three ways the nation would suffer, namely, fire, death by the sword, and exile.
- He was not permitted to mourn for his wife when she died (24:15).
Read the Book of Ezekiel.
Read the Book of Ezekiel and get a sense of the majesty of God, his patience with sinners, and his nonsense response to adamant rebellion from his creatures. And yet God is exorbitantly and indefatigably magnanimous to us. May his name be praised forever and ever.