We have begun the study of Ezekiel’s first task as a prophet, and, as we began to see, it was not a pleasant one. And the instructions the Lord was about to give him would make it seem even worse.
So now we read Ezekiel ch. 4:
‘Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering-rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face towards it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the people of Israel.
‘Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel.
‘After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Turn your face towards the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophecy against her. I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.
‘Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.’ The Lord said, ‘In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.’
Then I said, ‘Not so, Sovereign Lord! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No impure meat has ever entered my mouth.’
‘Very well,’ he said, ‘I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.’
He then said to me: ‘Son of man, I am about to cut off the food supply in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin.’
Have you ever built a sandcastle when you were small? Maybe you did this close to the water at the seaside and made a channel for the water of the sea to flow to the castle. Maybe you created a moat around it that filled with water and placed a flag on it. And then maybe you lied down for a while in the sun and had your face turned towards your creation with pride.
Most of us have such memories of when we were children, and such things usually bring happy thoughts. But if we began to do something like this as an adult, most of us would not find the same level of joy that we had as a child. Not only that, but our spouses would be looking up the phone number of the therapist… Neighbours would shake their heads, and the kids would think that dad had finally flipped.
Making a representation of a fort and laying siege to it has been a children’s game for thousands of years. To see an adult doing such things would certainly be thought strange. More than a few folk would think that Ezekiel had finally lost his marbles. Maybe they already thought him strange, because he was one of the remnant among the people who remembered that he was one of the chosen people and belonged to God. There is the tradition that people thought he was the son of Jeremiah, who was despised by the people for preaching the words of warning and judgement. It is hard to say what the attitude towards Ezekiel may have been. Perhaps they even expected him to be a little crazy. But they would certainly have thought it odd to have a man build a sandcastle from clay and to lay siege to it.
One thing seems to be clear: God needed a man who was not afraid to appear crazy to others. Quite often I believe, there are many things that are denied to God’s people because God has spoken to someone and asked them to do something, but it never happened because the individual person involved was too scared to look silly.
But there is something very very interesting in this passage of scripture, something that is a problem for those who preach infallibility and perfectionism with regard to the scriptures, as if they were written by God. I am interested in the fact that the instruction of god to Ezekiel is contrary to the Law as delivered to Moses to be given to God’s chosen people Israel. This is something that also greatly surprised Ezekiel and he was outspoken about this, even though it was to the Lord.
So the question has to be asked: did God make a mistake? Did he forget the Law that he gave? Did Ezekiel not hear correctly?
I don’t think any of those questions need to be answered in the positive, and that there are other possible answers. I do not claim to have the answer to this one, but there are some things worth considering.
Deuteronomy 28 gives a short list of blessings, but then talks about disobedience to the law followed by curses on the land for forsaking the Lord and his ways. In this we have the curse or prophecy about the people being in a foreign land and worshipping foreign gods (vs 36). Also, throughout this chapter, the Lord says several times that he will destroy the nation.
At this time when Ezekiel lived, that was almost complete. Jerusalem itself was all that was left, and this city was already under siege (and, as we read in the text, the Lord was about to bring about the cut-off of their food supply). So, it could be argued, was there still a place for the law when the people it was given to had been destroyed as a nation? This Law did not apply to the rest of the world, only the requirements of the Covenant of Noah (check this in Genesis. There are some rules involved with this).
This brings other questions which are not clearly answered by scripture. You see, the Israelites and the Jews today never preach, like we Christians do, that if you do not follow exactly the same faith then you are going to hell. They have always pointed out that the Law as received by Moses applies to Israel and all the descendants of Israel, plus all proselytes and their descendants. For the rest of the world they would point to the covenant with Noah, and say that this applies even to this day. So it comes back to recognising that there is a god, that He is one, that he needs to be acknowledged, praised, and thanked. You can find more about this in Genesis at the end of the story of Noah. It helps to explain why God was speaking to Pharaoh about his relationship with God when Pharaoh was wanting to sleep with Abraham’s wife.
The stance of the church appears to be, officially, that the covenant of Noah has been cancelled and that, without Jesus, you are lost and going to hell and that is the end of the story. But, do we really have any scriptural authority to declare any of the covenants finished and defunct? Some point to the words ‘it is finished’ from Jesus as being the moment that brought the end of the Old Covenant (the Law – ie. being a member of God’s people of Israel). But why? It could equally mean that the earthly mortal existence of Jesus was finished. It could also mean that the work of the cross was completed, and the price paid, and redemption in place.
There are some writers, considered as far too liberal by many in the church, who say that the work of redemption on the cross provides the salvation that is necessary whether you are under the covenant of Noah or the covenant of Moses and the Law. So, for these, they see that salvation is available provided you live according to one of the three covenants. The more strict will insist that the requirements of the covenant of Noah are a minimum for Christians – but then that is a foot inside the door of legalism, something that Jesus preached against.
I stay safe by preaching Jesus and salvation through him. But yet we are in an interesting situation as to examining the covenants that are presented to us in the scriptures.
But back to our text, some argue that, as far as the Lord was concerned, the people in exile had placed themselves outside of the covenant with Moses and so were now under the covenant of Noah – and in this case there was no mistake in what the Lord was asking of Ezekiel.
It has to be said that the book of Ezekiel, and the early chapters in particular, is one of the most complex and challenging collection of writings in the whole canon of scripture. Today we see one requirement of God from Ezekiel that was shocking to the prophet because of the contradiction with the Law.
Of course, one could ‘cheat’ and say that this was just a test of Ezekiel himself, to see if Ezekiel knew the Law and would stick to it, what his attitude was to God’s commands. But, those things that Ezekiel said in his reply reveal that God knows the answer to all of that anyway. He was not blind to Ezekiel’s life.
But did Ezekiel do what I hear too often and read too often from other Christians? What I mean is this: as soon as something seems to come to some Christians that is contrary to their understanding of scripture, they assume that they are being spoken to by a demon. Now back to Ezekiel. Did he accuse God of being a demon?
I think we need to be much much more careful about the things we assume about God and the things we assume about demons. Certainly it seems clear that too much glory is given to Satan and demons and too little glory given to the glory and beauty of our Lord. Too little love and gratitude for the Father heart of God, and too little victory and power given to that which has been bought for us through the mighty and wonderful act of sacrifice on the cross by our Lord Jesus.
Christians have every reason to view all these things from the position of victory. Then to live showing love through our lives every minute of every day.