We have been studying the first prophetic tasks of Ezekiel which were all about the judgement of God against Jerusalem. We have seen how the situation of the Israelites was prophesied from ancient times, even by Moses, and that now it was actually happening. Jerusalem was the only uncaptured part of the land remaining, and Ezekiel prophesied about the siege and the result.
Now the prophecy tells us about the aftermath, reading Ezekiel 6:1-10:
The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, set your face against the mountains of Israel; prophesy against them and say: “You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and the valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols. I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. Wherever you live, the towns will be laid waste and the high places demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols smashed and ruined, your incense altars broken down, and what you made wiped out. Your people will fall slain among you, and you will know that I am the Lord.
But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and the nations. Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me – how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practises. And they will know that I am the Lord; I did not threaten in vain to bring calamity on them.”’
This follows on directly from the prophesy about the end of the siege of Jerusalem, and how terrible that will be. Some, one third, will be scattered, running away, and will be pursued by the sword. So now we see that it does not matter where they will go to, their high places or the ravines, disaster will follow them and they will be killed and left to rot by their altars and idols. It turned out that this prophecy was fulfilled in two ways, because after the exile, those who returned also dealt this fiercely with any remaining idol worshippers wherever they were found in the land.
This is a further word about the judgement which god had held off from bringing for 390 years. So I would repeat what I said before – that our God is not an angry god who will smash you to pieces at the first sign of failing to follow his ways. He is patient and provides many opportunities for you to realise your errors and sins and to turn back to Him. Indeed he chases after you, much in the same way as Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Shepherd. He is slow to anger and quick to forgive and place your sins far from you. This is repeated more than once.
But there are those who preach God in such a way that the congregations are cowed in fear. This is not Christianity, and it is not even Pharisaical Judaism. It is nothing other than sin and the love of control over other people’s lives. They love the scripture that says: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But they preach it as if it is the only wisdom.
This well-known scripture itself says that fear is only the beginning. The beginning of maths is to understand that one plus one equals two. But if that was all that you understood of maths, then you would find life difficult indeed and be a target for ridicule. In the same way, if the only thing you understood about god is that he is scary and you better watch out, then you really do not know god at all. There is much much more to wisdom, and fearing god is only the beginning of the learning that is necessary.
God is love and is a Father. A good father is not one who wants to have his children in fear of him. A good father wants to have his children enjoy his presence, to want to sit on his lap and be cuddled by him.
For sure, all fathers have rules, and they are ready to defend them. But it is only bad fathers who would lash out with the hand or the belt at the first breaking of the rule. Kids will test and push the boundaries – and folks, that is instinctive and you see it in animal young also. Who created instinct?
It is not the role of the fathers to beat their offspring until what God put in there is no longer in there! It is their role, rather to show how the world works, to demonstrate patience (for this is learned) and to demonstrate love (because this is also learned in the sense of how to show it rather than for the instinctive compulsion to cling). It is the roll of the father to demonstrate forgiveness, and to do it properly. That means, to forget that the ‘sin’ ever happened and so not to declare that ‘as usual’ a sin was performed – because this is using the creative power of the tongue in a negative way. Beware! Many parts of scripture tell us that the tongue holds the power of life and death, blessing and cursing.
The physical punishment should always be a last resort, and that the first kind of physical punishment should not be the hand or the belt, but a restriction. Some use the ‘naughty step’ or the corner or some such. The child is restricted until admitting that they did wrong and saying sorry.
The Lord brought many things to the Israelites before finally attacking them and bringing hurts and death. He had patience much longer than any of our lifetimes. So if you are going to demonstrate godly fatherhood, you need to do so in the fashion of God.
But what about those verses in Proverbs about not worrying about killing your child when using the stick of correction? There are two very important answers to that one:
The first is that the book of Proverbs, that many attribute to Solomon, is the wisdom and opinion of one man. This advice is not repeated elsewhere in the scriptures. It is something therefore to be very careful about. It is part of the problem of calling the bible ‘the Word of God’ and treating it as though it is one book with God as the author. But the bible is a library of 66 or 70 books (depending on your tradition) and these books were written by men (and maybe a couple of women) and not by god. In fact the scriptures themselves tell us this.
Yes, they were inspired by God, but there is no special meaning of that word purely for religious purposes. Men are fallen beings, subject to their own cultures and mentalities and traditions of the time and place where they lived, and this has been seen in the different ways that different authors in the scriptures portray their different understandings of god.
And for this reason, it is desperately important never to form a doctrine on the say-so of one verse of scripture alone. It is very important first to understand verses in their context, and second to see repeat of the concept elsewhere in scriptures and preferably from a different author.
The context needs checking in each case, because many verses have been twisted to say things that they do not say by ignoring the context (as has been demonstrated by the misuse of sayings of Jesus for the sake of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’). This violent advice in Proverbs against children is the writing of one man and not repeated elsewhere in the scriptures, so it is dangerous grounds for forming a violent parenting doctrine.
But there is another reason to think of. The rod of correction is another name for the shepherd’s staff. This is not used to beat the backsides of sheep until they are in pain and bleating out for the pain to stop! The rod is used to stop a sheep going the wrong way – usually by holding it out to block the movement of the sheep in the wrong direction. It is used sometimes as a gentle tap on one side of the sheep or the other – again to keep it in the correct direction and close to the other sheep. The hooked end is used to rescue sheep who have fallen down a hole, or to pull a sheep closer to the shepherd at the time of shearing or washing. This is a very different concept of using the rod from the one that is wrongly assumed so often! This is gentleness and love, and not violence.
There is a sense behind the prophesies of destruction that the Lord is a Father who is hurting more than the child that is being corrected. And again, this is the real sign of the good father. We have this confirmed when Jesus speaks of Jerusalem as a city that he would have gathered under his wings as a hen gathers her chicks, but they would not… And this close to the shortest verse in the bible: Jesus wept.
God is not a lover of wrath or judgement. He is a God of love and restoration. We need to follow his example of great patience and loving guidance. He is worthy of love and praise!