We have been looking at the first of the tasks that the Lord had for the prophet Ezekiel, that of ‘laying siege’ to a representation of the city of Jerusalem. We have already seen that there were some unusual things for Ezekiel to do, and now we read of more unusual things. Ezekiel ch.5:
‘Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword. But take a few hairs and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. Again, take a few of these and throw them into the fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to all Israel.
‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: this is Jerusalem, which I have set in the centre of the nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees.
‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: you have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.
‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. Therefore in your midst parents will eat their children, and children will eat their parents. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds. Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will shave you; I will not look on you with pity or spare you. A third of your people will die of plague or perish by famine inside you; a third will fall by the sword outside your walls; and a third I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword.
‘Then my anger will cease and my wrath against them will subside, and I will be avenged. And when I have spent my wrath on them, they will know that I the Lord have spoken in my zeal.
‘I will make you a ruin and a reproach among the nations around you, in the sight of all who pass by. You will be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and an object of horror to the nations around you when I inflict punishment on you in anger and in wrath and with stinging rebuke. I the Lord have spoken. When I shoot at you with my deadly and destructive arrows of famine, I will shoot to destroy you. I will bring more and more famine and wild beasts against you, and they will leave you childless. Plague and bloodshed will sweep through you, and I will bring the sword against you. I the Lord have spoken.’
Admittedly, this is not exactly the most happy chapter in the bible. Here, in the midst of the Israelites who had been taken into exile, Ezekiel was to demonstrate, using his own hair, how the Lord will judge the city of Jerusalem, which was yet to fall to the surrounding armies. One third to die of famine and plague within the city, one third outside of the walls to fall to the sword, and one third to be chased by the sword.
The picture painted of life before this was also not pleasant. It is too easy to judge when you have not been so hungry that you can see your body consuming its own muscles in the need to find sustenance. None of us knows how desperate we would really be, and how our normal judgement of what is right and wrong would be affected. And so we read of parents eating their own children and of children eating their own parents.
We have seen on our television screens often enough the results of war, and of whole populations being cut off from normal trade and relief. We have seen the people starving and desperate and dying. Blood on the streets is shown so often in the news that it often does not even shock us any more. The kinds of scenes that are spoken of in this prophecy are happening somewhere in the world today.
It has to be said that some of these things happen through sheer greed, through those who throw seeds of malcontent at foreign people to rise up against their rulers. And why? So that the manufacturers of the machinery of war can make higher profits, and the politicians who invest in them (and often have the support of evangelical pastors) can receive a higher reward on their investment. And then so that a puppet leader can be placed in charge of the destroyed country and ruined people so that there will be easy trade of natural resources with the same heartless and selfish beasts who created the war at the start. And so they increase the profit of the companies who trade in those natural resources, and reap the rewards for their own greedy selves through their investments.
And this is part of the danger when a political system is created where only the rich can rule, and not the youngest son of a farmer. (You do know the story of King David?)
I have to admit that I have problems with chapters such as this one (even taking into account the full context, in which we have a people who thought they were rejected and despised by god, and yet god was still speaking to them, still wanting good for them, still revealing himself to them). There seems to be an inconsistency with those scriptures talking of a god who does not change. There seems to be a huge chasm between the god of this chapter and the god who is love.
Some answer this by saying that god is also a god of justice. That his ways are above our ways and we are mere humans and so can’t possibly understand god with our limited human understanding.
The main problem with a lot of the traditional thinking is that it treats the whole bible as though it was only one book and with only one author – god. But that is to completely ignore the facts. First, God is not the author of any single part of the bible. To call it the Word of God is only to follow a tradition, because the scriptures themselves tell us the definition of the Word of God, and it is not the scriptures!
The bible was written by men (and possibly, in some parts, women), ordinary men who have the same fallen nature as you and me. It was written over a very long period of time, more than a thousand years, and by many authors. These authors came from different times, different cultures, and different mentalities. These different mentalities cause a different viewpoint and understanding of how nature works and how god created and interacts with it. Even more different is the understanding of how god interacts with people, and even why he should be interested in people at all.
The bible shows different gods almost, although we know that the authors were writing of the same god, and so we can easily see that the god who is portrayed to us depends on the author as well as on the character of God. For instance, the books of Moses revealed a God who was interested in all of mankind, even though he chose from among them one nation to call his people. But the rest of the Old Testament is mostly about a god of this one nation, and so how he fights with them or defends them in war, and how he blesses or curses according to the devotion of his people to him. There are some clear exceptions, for instance Jonah who was sent out from Israel to preach to another city in another nation.
Those who know the bible well can point to many many more examples. But the general effect of most of the old testament is to treat god as a tribal god. Even Jesus defends this with regard to his teaching, as was shown by his comments to the Samarian woman (Canaanite woman in one gospel), and the initial reluctance with the Roman who requested help. But his sacrifice was for the whole world and this was proven to Peter later when he had the visions that led him to bring the gospel to the gentiles.
We take the god as revealed in Jesus and the epistles for granted these days, and so find it easy to speak of the god of love, and of the Fatherly nature of god. Although there are examples also in the New Testament that should act as warnings. For instance, read about Ananias and Saphira in the book of Acts.
I am also reminded of the books of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis. Aslan the lion, who represents Jesus, became loved by the children of this world who were transported to the world of Narnia. But in one of the books, a young girl from this world asks the Narnians, ‘Is he safe?’ This caused laughter that such a question should be asked. ‘No, he is not safe,’ was the reply.
And this is the case in reality with our god. He is love, he is our heavenly father, but he is certainly not ‘safe.’
Jesus himself is known as the Lion of Judah, in the prophets, and no lion should ever be considered safe. There are requirements for each of the covenants that you find in the bible. If you consider the covenant of Noah, then there are requirements for that. If you consider the covenant of Israel, then there are whole books of law that are part of the requirements for that – although Jesus and the expert in the law agreed that all of the law and the prophets can be summed up in just two laws. And if you consider the covenant of grace, then the have the whole of the new testament to guide you in that. But there are requirements, and if you ignore them you do so at your own peril.
The Israelites ignored the requirements of their covenant with their god. Unlike the angry and wrathful and destructive nature that is preached by some, God was very very patient with his people. He gave them very many opportunities to come back to him. He was indeed like the good shepherd, going after the stray sheep to bring them back into the fold. But repeatedly they would not follow the Lord and his ways. 390 years is a lot of patience, and some of us mortals lose our cool with another after only 390 seconds or less…
But the Lion of Judah has claws and teeth. He is not ‘safe’. And after this lengthy period of patience, there was a judgement to face. The result was not pretty. And yet, as we will read later, there is love and salvation and help even in all of this for the remnant who chose to walk in the ways of their god. So read on for the happier message, but it is a good bit further on…
For now, we must try to understand more about the wrath of the Lord. To be continued…