I am reading the Prophet Ezekiel. This Biblical book is not for the faint of heart. The opening chapters tell of the Priest Ezekiel’s visions received while living in Babylon among the exiles of Judah. God repeatedly and graphically describes the punishments has loaded on the shoulders of his people for their sins. The God of Ezekiel is angry.
I am reading the Contemporary English Version, which like many versions inserts titles into the text. The title for 11:1-13 indicates the mood: “Ezekiel condemns Jerusalem’s wicked leaders.” Ezekiel 11:22-25 is subtitled “The Lord’s glory leaves Jerusalem.” And the title for chapter 12 is “Messages of Doom for Judah and Jerusalem.” Good times! God is not playing around here – “condemns;” “the Lord’s glory leaves;” “Doom;” – this is serious stuff.
However, note that these divisions do not account for 11:14-21. In that section, a little hope slips in. God is severely ticked off at his people, but God is still God. And God cannot be God without holding out hope even in hopeless situations. Please note this, remember it, and go back to it whenever despair knocks at the door. God always holds out hope, even in hopeless situations.
“It’s true that I, the Lord God, have forced you out. … I will be with you wherever you are. … I will gather you. … You will be my people and I will be your God” (from 11:16, 17, & 19). From God’s perspective, the horrors of the Babylonian exile were directly tied to the sins of the people of Israel and Judah. Historians would look and see a powerful empire, Babylon, who overwhelmed many small nations in its path, Israel being just one. In that historic interpretation, Israel never really recovered to be the called out nation again.
Israel went from one overlord to another, Assyria to Babylon, Babylon to Persia, Persia to Greece, Greece to Rome. Israel never again gained independence until 1948. Today, Israel is essentially a secular state and a powerful ally of the most powerful of secular states – the United States of America. This can all be explained by a historian and the explanation won’t have much to do with theology.
God, view though is very different. In God’s view, Israel fell, but was never forgotten. God came to ultimately redeem Israel and the world in the incarnation, Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh.
So which view colors ours, that of the secular historian or God’s perspective?
I write this as we near the end of 2014, at a time of turmoil in our country and around the world. America struggles with racial tension and uncertainty regarding immigration. Terrorism in Nigeria, the threat of democracy’s utter failure in the way Russia is bullying Ukraine, protests in Hong Kong, and the seemingly endless war in Syria are some of today’s stories that come together as testimony that the world is fallen. There will be no peace and no hope for peace because hatred and violence reign.
In the face of the bitterest realities that plague us today, Ezekiel, the prophet who presents an angry God, hints at hope. Every problem I named in the previous paragraph, God ties to sin, to rebellion against Him. Yet God does not abandon humanity to die in the consequences of our sins. God continues to promise He will be with us. He will gather us. In Christ, we will be his people and he will be our God.
Does such good news truly come from the dark chapters of anger and wrath? It does. Even in judgment God is still God and whenever and wherever God is God, there is mercy. Mercy and discipline, grace and accountability – we can count on it all from God. Writing as a Christian, I especially believe that the gathering hope Ezekiel hinted at comes full force in the gospel and in the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit.
I am reading Ezekiel. It is not easy. Sometimes it goes down like medicine which tastes to awful it distorts my face to drink it. But I need that medicine. Even more I need this word from God. So I continue taking it in knowing am blessed because of it.