Ezekiel 14

I’ve taken ages to read this chapter! I’ve had a lot of ideas and projects in my head. Every time I start to read it, my mind flies off somewhere else.

It’s about God’s toughness, it’s about calling out what needs to be called out.

Israelite leaders have assimilated to life in Babylon. Then Ezekiel turns up with his year long art installation about the judgement of Jerusalem. Clearly it can’t be ignored, so they come to him to see what he has to say.

They get no word of Jerusalem or prophesy from the Lord other than the condemnation of their own hypocrisy and idolatry.

I read about Greta Thunberg, the 17 year old climate change activist who lead a protest outside the white house, but when invited to speak to the president refused, because she doesn’t speak to people who don’t accept the science.

That’s where Ezekiel is at here. And if he does prophesy to them, he’ll be complicit in their idolatry.

Then there is a lacerating image of the four judgements God is bringing on Jerusalem: sword, plague, wild beasts and famine.

Noah Daniel and Job would barely get out with their own life from any one of these, let alone save anyone else, let alone all four judgements at once.

Yet when Ezekiel and the others already in Babylon see the new exiles, the ones who do get out, they will understand. They will understand that God’s is in control.

I have a somewhat careering sense all of the plans and projects around. My family faces end of year stress. Years can be a marker of challenges and lack of progress, as much as opportunity. I have a to do list that feels well beyond me.

But things could be a lot, a lot worse and God could still be in control. I need to let the word of the Lord determine what first things will come first.

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Ezekiel 13

These chapters are each a “word of the Lord” and end with “then you you know that I am Lord”, a phrase I associate with an almighty thud, like an anvil falling in a Warner brothers cartoon.

Today’s will be the exposure of false prophets, the ones who are selling comfort and peace.

Those are good things, unless they are works of the imagination that mislead people, give them false hope, are motivated by being invested in the power and wealth structures of the status quo, and lead people to act against their own best interests.

Climate change deniers come to mind, in the modern world.

In the church I suppose wishy washy theology comes to mind, people who know more than they let on about the love of Jesus, because of the gospel’s tendency to divide opinion. There are some prices too high for a positive vibe.

And I don’t say that easily, as someone who values it more than many.

A lot of the chapter is taken up with a wall metaphor. Very apt, considering they lived in a walled city under threat of siege.

God talks about the folly of whitewashing over weaknesses to gain false comfort, rather than acknowledging risk and danger, and actually making a strong wall.

As someone who has always lived in old houses in a termite prone area, I know all about walls that are held together just by paint. It’s amazing how plausible they can look, and how easily they crumble.

I got cathartic with my boss at work yesterday at our regular meeting, and it felt like such a good thing. I’m a conflict avoider, and he’s worse! He wasn’t going to raise it. But I jumped in at the end. We’ve been struggling, and the whitewash of smiley patter just hasn’t been cutting it.

I think we strengthened the wall, I hope so.

Ezekiel 12

This is about fearing God I suppose.

Ezekiel acts out the defeat and exile that the rest of Jerusalem will suffer, for the benefit of those already dragged away by Babylon.

They still don’t believe it’s possible. They have a saying that visions never come to pass, which he repudiates.

This vision of the destruction of Jerusalem will happen.

So fear the Lord.

We’ve already been given a spoiler of the people’s response. They don’t accept Ezekiel’s message from God. (sorry later chapters if they do).

It’s still true now that so many people appear to live their lives thinking that the gody stuff doesn’t matter.

I’m so deep in it, my temptation is get blase about what I already accept.

People sometimes persist in ignoring God even as things start to fall apart, like the exiles here… You’d think they might suspect god might keep his judgement promise.

Yes, this is serious, we only get one go at it.

Ezekiel 11

Flip the script!

In this chapter the vision of the past 11 chapters all comes into focus.

Ezekiel is far from Israel, carted away by invaders from Babylon. He’s feeling deserted by God.

No. The foreign land is God’s sanctuary, he’s actually one of those who are marked as God’s child.

His vision of Jerusalem shows the idolatrous sun worshippers in the temple. They would agree that the likes of Ezekiel are the losers.

They describe themselves with an only semi-comprehensible metaphor of a cooking pot. The gist seems to be: we are where it’s at, we’re cooking, we’re the choice cuts, not the scraps who have been rejected.

They feel safe, protected within the city. But they are not.

So the vision is good for Ezekiel, bad for those still in the city. God has flipped the script in their near history, by marking the seemingly unlucky ones as in fact the first to be saved from the destruction of Jerusalem.

And in the meta revelation of his character, he’s talked about making our hearts his dwelling, turning hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. Great verse! He’s not in a building, he’s in our hearts. And he’s literally showing that by destroying the temple, and blessing Ezekiel, who is seemingly remote from God, with this vision showing that God is right with him.

My emotions are regrettably out of sync with this book. This chapter is the first one with any hope. I’ve been quite happy and upbeat while reading all the doom and gloom, and now there is a ray of hope in the book I’m sad.

My bank app has a very helpful summary of money in and money out that showed me we’ve been living beyond our means. I kind of knew it was true, but seeing it laid out there in black and white was a shock. I’ve already gone broke once and it was very stressful, so it made me alarmed. Bought up a lot of ongoing inadequacies.

But I have to look at the good side: things are far from dire, I can respond.

So maybe there is some sort of connection: this vision in my bank app enables me to flip the script. I’ll pray.

Ezekiel 10

In this chapter the glory of the Lord literally leaves the temple. The big throne thing from chapter one collects it.

It is like a cloud, it goes from the holy of holies to the threshold and then it departs altogether.

The Messenger who marked the faithful people to skip destruction in the last chapter takes coals from the big throne-with-wheels thing and spreads them about the city.

This predicts the burning of the city, which did in fact happen a few years later. The bitter pill the Israelites have to swallow is that the judgement may be executed by invaders but it comes comes from God.

The sermon on Sunday was about losing your religion. From John 29:10, how we are sheep that can’t be snatched from God.

The key thing being that faith is on our part governed by free will. Nothing external can separate us from God, but we can choose to. And nothing outside of ourselves will put the belief back into us. But we can always choose that.

Most of the Israelites have chosen to worship the sun instead of God, in his own temple. But those who have despaired at those choices are kept from destruction by God’s mark.

God, Father I can understand, mostly, the challenges before me. But I really don’t understand your plans for those who choose to reject you. You have revealed your character, and that I love. And trust.

Ezekiel 9

I saw the documentary amazing Grace – legendary 1972 footage of Aretha Franklin singing gospel in church. It’s an overwhelming tribute to her talent and her faith that keeps rolling round in my head.

I started to Google about her personal faith, but of course I’d seen it, heard it and felt it. She says not an audible spoken word in the whole movie, but her singing is like Jacob’s ladder to heaven.

How drab did Ezekiel 9 appear, all this Doom and gloom, talking about the indiscriminate destruction of the faithless in Israel.

I want the lovin’stuff… “How I got over” not how I went under!

But it’s all connected.

Ezekiel got off to a thrilling start when the glory of the Lord appeared to him next to a river in Babylon. This chapter reveals the ghastly truth implied by that rolling splendor, God is no longer in the temple.

Israel is becoming the unchosen. In this chapter the creatures holding up God’s throne in Ezekiel’s vision are revealed as cherubim. The things with wings covering the ark of the covenant. As a priest, Ezekiel would never have seen those, even they didn’t enter the holy of holies, only the high priest, once a year.

Yet here they were, rolling around the world at large. And the temple is full of people worshipping idols. Ezekiel sees God’s messengers slay first them, then people through the whole city.

The war that fulfilled the prophesy of Israel’s judgement was just another banal war. The New York Times estimated that in the past 3000 years there have been about 200 without war, if you define it as a conflict in which at least 1000 people die.

That says all you need to know about human nature.

A few, the remnant of the Jews, are marked in Ezekiel’s vision literally with the sign of the cross, a letter ‘t’ in ancient script. They escape.

Another messenger comes to Ezekiel, who is in deep sadness and distress about the vision, and comforts him about the few with the mark.

But the scene I watched of Aretha singing in that scruffy looking church in a converted cinema, full of the spirit. The sense of the spirit myself and my brother felt sitting in that cinema watching it, is because God lives in people’s hearts after Jesus, after Pentecost.

The glory is still rolling (and rocking?) and the wars are still happening.

The joy of her singing triumphed over the pain that inspired the civil rights movement and her own often pretty scummy life.

So I’m thinking about the connection of it all, and about how you have to have the prophets.

Ezekiel 8

Ezekiel sees visions of idolatry in the temple. It’s a condemnation of fake religion, hypocrisy. It’s when your symbols and structures of faith have no actual faith happening in them.

You expect the idolatry to be outside the church, oppositional to it, not in the centre, where God should be.

I came to it off reading an article which linked the current generational distaste for churches with trumpian evangelical politics, drawing parallels to the Protestant revolution and the French revolution.

Why People Hate Religion https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/30/opinion/trump-religion.html.

It’s way easy, of course, to blend into the mix of everything wrong with Christians everything that you don’t personally like God saying to you.

And politics is an overly simple lens – Christians are more nuanced than progressive-always-good, conservative-always-bad.

I get tired of the attitude from non Christian friends of being able to barely tolerate us feeding some poor people, as long as we never ever say anything gody. It’s about Jesus,ok?

But too many people, for too many reasons, look at the church and see a vision like Ezekiel saw in this chapter. Worshipping lies, money, sex and power.

Ezekiel 7

This is about the most stereotypical old testament prophet chapter I’ve read. God is giving Ezekiel a word, and it is “the end is nigh” a number of times along with “Doom” and “distaster” and “the day is here”.

It’s where all those cliches come from. But I don’t want to make light of it. It is the most extreme language available.

Literally no words are going to make any difference, God’s frustration is palpable.

He would rather love them I guess. He’ chose Israel above all other nations, but they have not honoured God. Nothing has, or will, change them.

I came to this from a news item about a judge giving the victims of accused sex-trafficker billionaire Jeffrey Epstein a day in court to tell their stories, even though he killed himself before the trial.

This chapter talks vividly about the valuelessness of the wealth and jewels of Jerusalem’s elite when judgement comes. They’ll be throwing it on the streets like it’s nothing.

What did Epstein think about his wealth as he slipped away in his cell? Makes you shiver to think of a life of such opportunity, disgusting abuse and emptiness.

Ezekiel’s audience have already escaped, they are on the sidelines. They’ve been feeling wobegone, but they are actually the lucky ones.

They are to channel their survivor-guilt into response to God. The line that caps the chapter brings that into focus: “Then they will know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 6

Hope has to die before idols will lose their grip.

This is a prophesy against mountains, those most symbolic places to meet God, where the 10 commandments came, where Jerusalem stood, where Jesus was revealed as the Messiah to his followers and where he died.

So lost is Israel that every mountain and hill has idols, God-replacements, on it. The hubris! What a slap at Jehovah!

The prophesy is that only the few who are exiled after the destruction of Jerusalem will live to regret and repent of the idol worship.

A strange thing is that this prophesy is already being preached to exiles. Ezekiel is among some early Israelite exiles already transported away to Babylon.

We haven’t had the response of the people quoted yet, but God has predicted it: he says they will be stubborn and malicious.

And it’s because Jerusalem hasn’t fallen yet. While the old, corrupt, City they call home, condemned as it is by prophet after prophet, still struggles against a seige with an inevitable outcome, hope will not die that they might be returned to it.

Such is the depth of our wrongheadedness.

There’s a rather haunting prediction in this chapter of the bones of dead bodies of Israelites at the foot of the useless Asherah poles they hoped in.

So part of our time on the planet will be spent trying to break the tenacity of God replacements, preferably before God has to destroy all hope in them.

Some of the challenges as middle age ticks away is letting go of abilities, achievements, the home as you know it, maybe; relevance, children, at least the relationships as you’ve known them…

There’s a mountain of achievement you’ve climbed, peaked, and the trip down the other side has much uncertainty and confusion. You need to remember that success was the wrong mountain for hope.

Then there’s alcohol, unhealthy eating, low energy levels and an ever more creaky body tempting you with laziness…

Don’t want to trivialise Ezekiel’s message, but next time I’m lying on the sofa with a piece of pizza and contemplating a 3rd glass of cheap red, I’ll say a little prayer…

Ezekiel 5

Another sign / street theatre symbolising destruction. This was directly after the strange year-long seige-play in the last chapter.

Ezekiel cut off his hair and burned it or threw it to the winds. He divided it into thirds – symbolising those destroyed in Jerusalem, around the city or those scattered to exile.

God compared what will happen to the people as ‘shaving’, hence the hair. He prophesied that within the city walls parents would eat children and children would eat parents, a vivid glimpse of how desperate and grim it would be.

This evil, done by evil people, God characterises as judgement. Part of his plan. It’s very hard too take, Lord.

The Bible, give or take, is the story of ‘people find God’ (up to Solomon), ‘people lose God’ (rest of OT) people find God. (NT). Like a romance novel.

‘People lose God’ is very long, about 20 books.

Since Genesis I’ve been toying with the idea that rebellion is an inherent part of any creation that includes autonomy, just as adolescence is part of growing up. Leaving the father and mother.

It will be interesting to see how AI pans out – will rebellion be a step? If so 1000 B-movie script writers will be lining up to say ‘I told you so’.

Perhaps we have the capacity for evil as part of our creation.

Judgement is very efficient… Rather like creation being self sustaining and replenishing, evil is self-punishing, by other evil.

God’s revelation to us of himself is both complete in every moment and progressive. Inside time and outside it.

The heavens tell the glory of God. All you need to know. So do Paul’s epistles, in a more fiddly way.

Rahab welcomed the spies to Jericho. In that moment was the gospel. The prophets and the poets witnessed the destruction of everything they knew, but though that awful history the ‘new thing’ was revealed: the god of all nations, who is the sacrifice, who lives in us, who is love. Evil not only punishes itself, but ultimately destroys itself through the transformations it can force our hearts to have to make.

So I do believe it is in God’s hands, in ways too marvelous for me to understand, as lame as that sounds. He’s got this.