Ezekiel 24

Signs for the very day of Jerusalem’s siege. Ezekiel had been prophesying for almost 10 years when Jerusalem finally fell to the Babylonians.

He has two prophetic signs.

A cooking pot, described in ghastly terms, an arbitrary mix of dead flesh in it, scum coming out, an intense fire fuelled by bones, so intense that it chars and melts the pot itself. The destruction of the city and the people.

His wife dies. The loss of a cherished beautiful living loved one, echoing the destruction of the temple. The ending of God’s presence. Ezekiel is allowed to show no sign of mourning, and the Israelites are to do the same when the official news comes though about the temple.

Living among the Babylonians already, it will show them presumably that there is something bigger afoot, God is in control still somehow.

Always in calamity, in the worst you can imagine, the deepest loss, the most deserved fall: hope, plans.

Ezekiel 23

A word from God that is a surprisingly vulgar and explicit analogy of Samaria and Jerusalem and prostitutes. Have no illusion, God understands all about the dynamics and details of that activity.

Jerusalem is worse because it courted more nations, who are depicted as the clients. So both accommodated the Assyrians, but Jerusalem also turned to the Chaldeans, Babylonians, and back to the Egyptians they came from.

These were all alliances. So it set me thinking about alliances as well as the gravity of sin. It’s who and how they got in bed with…

In message after message to the forgotten Israelites in Babylon, God is desperately saying he hasn’t abandoned them, they abandoned him. He’s allowing this out of desperation as the only way he can reach them.

Lust has a context in love, but can also be separate. God is rejecting our claim to be satisfied in a loveless life.

God wants us to respond.

From the time the Israelites were in the desert, he doesn’t force any of them to love him. He’s showing them the consequences of rejecting him while they can still choose.

The response can be shown in pretty much anything. Wordlessly touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak.

Ezekiel 22

This is an early exile group in Babylon, and Ezekiel is a source of God-given news about Jerusalem. It’s all bad.

This chapter has a brutal picture of a corrupt society. The powerful are depicted as a savage bunch of wild animals that tear people and social order apart to satisfy their appetites.

The priesthood is painted as whitewashing the greed and self dealing of the powerful for the own advantage, with no care for the average people.

The test of a society is it’s treatment of the vulnerable: poor, needy and foreigners. Jerusalem’s are robbed, extorted and denied justice.

We have these things called lobbyists. Persuading the government who are supposed to represent us to instead serve the interests of the coal lobby, or the stock market. Inequality is tangibly rising in so many Western democracies. More and more people are locked out of home ownership. The picture of Jerusalem might be worse in some ways, but we have some pretty big ills.

There’s a messianic word at the end about someone who could stand in the gap between Jerusalem and God’s wrath.

So we get away with it? Now Jesus is here? What is the accountability? This question fuels my addiction to U.S. politics. How long, lord, how long?

Ezekiel 21

This chapter has one big terrifying idea. Babylon is the sword of God drawn and unleashed against Israel. The thing most terrible, seemingly most unlike God, is part of his plan.

The doctrine of original sin makes god’s accommodation of evil and chaos inevitable.

Humanity has this spiritual and emotional overlay on top of natural functions.

Animals and plants reproduce. Humans fall in love, have lust and desire. We build a million things of beauty and ugliness on top of mere reproduction.

Likewise, nature replenishes. Things die, things are born. Things eat and get eaten.

With eternity in our hearts, we imagine our ancestors and our future generations. Our imagination fuels empires, noble and cruel. More than simply surviving, we have lives of generosity and greed driving us though our life span.

Made in god’s image, we think individuals matter. But we rise up and are cut down like grass.

Jesus lived in our perpetually unresolved state, eternal and mortal. God knows all about it.

Yet still it shocks. I recoil from god’s sword of judgement. It’s supposed to terrify me, and it does.

Ezekiel 20

God, can’t live without him, can’t live with him.

The Israelites are aware that Ezekiel speaks prophetically, so the leaders come to enquire of God.

They get a big rebuking dose of what they ought to already know. They are being judged for their faithlessness. Their situation is actually merciful compared to leaving them in the child sacrifice worship they had adopted. Their culture needed to be disrupted.

At the end of a long, sad history lesson, ending with an emotional plea to soften and accept God’s mercy, they say the saddest thing. They tell Ezekiel he is speaking in parables. They refuse to understand.

Ezekiel is a presence of their God in exile. They know he can’t be ignored. Their hearts know they are being judged and corrected, but they ask Ezekiel for a message anyway, and when they are told what they already knew, they claim not to understand it.

So true.

I’ve been away, I’ve been using this time to organise my EP launch, of songs inspired by this blog, so it feels related.

But I’m ready, I hope, to remake this habit. I get the truth at work, at church, here. It can be so familiar I risk giving it the contempt that the Israelites did.

I need to give time to pray for my family my friends.

Ezekiel 19

The theologically correct response to bad leadership.

It’s a lament, a song expressing sadness over the last Kings of Israel. I think it is part prophesy, as one king had not experienced the failure of his leadership yet.

The first two are compared to lion cubs that fall into traps, and the third to a fruitful vine that, ironically is burned to uselessness by a fire lit by a staff made of is own wood.

The change of metaphor signifies that the first two Kings, Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin were not of the line of David.

The lament calls them Princes of Judah, as opposed to the third, Zedekiah, who is described as of the vine from the glory days of David and Solomon, when the southern kingdom of Judah and Israel were one.

They are all Kings that I just wrote off as pathetic when I read Kings and Chronicles. But to the Israelites who lived though the cruel 3 month reign of Jehoahaz, he was the leader, he briefly represented hope. King is a role which parallels in many ways that of God.

Sadness, singing of how far things are from right. That is a good response to the failure of human leadership.

Anger can galvanise you to action… occasionally. But it must subside to indignation and outrage to be effective, because it only harms you in the long run to live in the grip of the emotion of anger. Surely.

Lament is the start of the process of pointing the frustrations of this wrongness back to God.

They hoped in these kings in some small way, or at very least were poignantly reminded of a time when they could trust in them.

I feel it strongest when narratives won’t be neat. When dumb decisions are made. When you can see the happy ending but it won’t just fall into place, whether it’s affecting you or others. The sadness of the fall.

Ezekiel 18

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In Adam all die, the doctrine of original sin means we’re all going to fall short of God’s glory.

It’s a kind of curse, and heresies based on this doctrine embellish the idea of the cursed generations. Bad seeds, bad blood, karma being revisited on the children of bad people.

Grace blows apart original sin. At any time we can throw ourselves on God and ask for the renewal of our hearts.

This chapter is about how we need to take responsibility for our own response to God… to Jesus, for us. We can’t use the idea of original sin to blame Adam for our evil, and certainly not some superstitious curse.

Here sin is exemplified by a list of practical life attitudes. Personal morality: not cheating, fair with money, obedience to the true God. And community building: sharing with the disadvantaged, not being oppressive. It’s written in a mixture of poetry and prose. It’s designed for teaching.

Our sin is our’s alone, our responsibility. But more significantly it’s a freedom. We can choose to turn to God, we can do it daily, we can do it with clarity:

Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

No need to stay cursed.

Ezekiel 17

Ezekiel is, I’m starting to think the prophet with the most love. The visions don’t hide the horror befalling Israel, but the end point of God’s love winning in the end is repeated more, I think, than in other major prophets. Just a theory.

This prophesy is quite precise about Zedekiah’s reign. He was virtually the last, pathetic king of Judah. He was a puppet king of the Babylonians, but tried a power move of betraying them by relying on a deal with Egypt to protect against them. It was a dumb move that I think made the sacking of Jerusalem necessary.

These political moves are compared to Eagles carrying twigs of Cedar trees -Israel being the twigs. An uncertain propagation strategy compared to flourishing next to a sustaining River.

It ends with a vision of the kingdom of God which Jesus referred to, as a great flourishing tree, full of birds, providing shade and comfort.

At the end of all these alarming analogies of the last few chapters: the cedar twig carried off by Eagles, the prostitute, the dead vine; are promises of God’s salvation.

I’ve read a lot of dire prophesy, and many stories of death and destruction to get this far in the Bible. Maybe I’m just getting de-sensitised to it.

Maybe it was the hopelessness of Ezekiel’s audience, already political captives, learning of the situation at home worsening. There is a lot of grace here. Hope despite everything.

It’s what is so appealing about the Bible: yes there is a reason we have spiritual longings as well as fleshly desires There is a God. The one constant, and God is a God of love.

Jesus is love in human flesh. In a world of evil, against all odds, God’s kingdom is established.

Ezekiel 15

An analogy for how little use Israel is to God. Unlike a tree, a vine is no use for wood. The wood of a vine is all weak, thin and twisty. It is useless dead.

Vines have to be alive, producing, connected to the sources of life.

So with us.

Frail as summer’s flower we flourish,
Blows the wind and it is gone;
But while mortals rise and perish
God endures unchanging on

We can decouple from God and not notice the change straight away, like cut flowers.

I pray for those I know who want to decouple from God. Some are very close to me and I love them very much.

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.