Ezekiel - Session Two
I. Re-Cap and Introduction
Note: all of the scripture passages are available on the study guide page
II. A. Read 13:3-11, 20-21 - What do we learn of false prophets and bad leaders (and their behaviors)? Do we have such prophets in our own time?
(These were charlatans who invoked God’s Name to authenticate their “prophecies,” playing on people’s desire to believe the best and to be lulled into a false sense of security.
The people had the desperate hope that this danger would pass and they wouldn’t be exposed to the accountability of God’s probing, demanded by God’s true prophets. Instead of introspection that leads to repentance, false prophets encouraged gradual erosion of national character and true standards.
They follow “their own whim and things which they have not seen,” not following God’s word.
“Like jackals among ruins.” “They’ll run out another opening” and “not stand in the opening to fight.” Instead of repairing breaches in the wall, they dig more holes in it to go in and exploit the ruins for their own benefit.
“Cowardice.” “Breaking new holes in the walls” of ruins.
“They falsely label their own imaginations as a communication from God.”
“They substitute their own thoughts and desires for God’s word as the source of their inspiration.”
They were “immoral, committed adultery, lied, and supported the wicked in their wickedness.”
“Hypocrites.” “It seems unlikely these sins were committed openly.”
They captured the minds of the weaker people and thus hastened the community’s destruction.
They do not “ascend into the breaches nor build a fence for the Family of Israel.” This would have included truly interceding with God on their behalf (going into the breach) while warning them of their iniquity (building a fence). (Moses did both!)
They did not perform good deeds that prevent evil. Maybe this means more: when a wall is breached in war, one should instead rush in to prevent the enemy from getting in and then repair it.
“They have seen a vain vision (not inspired by God) and false divination” and say it’s God. They engage in magic and divination.
“They lead the people astray, saying ‘Peace,’ but there is no peace.”
They build partition and “smear it with daub.” “Say to those who smear with daub: “It will collapse. There will be a deluge.”
Small, partial, fake measures based on unfounded optimism and wrong analysis that don’t even begin to address the problem are totally inadequate and will be blown away. This daub could also be self-inspired and false predictions of wellbeing.
And in 20-21, we see that God will turn against “their cushions with which they trap souls to make them fly,” “will tear them” from their arms,” “will set free these souls,” and “tear” their “wraps” and save the people from their clutches. These false prophets have used comforts and luxury and various devices to trap souls that they will actually send to Gehinnom. God will free them.
YES. We have such false prophets in our time.
(B. Read 14:13-16; 22:30 - Can righteous people save themselves from the Divine consequences that befall an evil people? Can they save the community as a whole? If yes, how and under what circumstances?
(These questions were handled in the first session.))
C. Read 15:1-5; 19:10 - Here we see the metaphor of the vine with Israel. What is it, and what does it signify?
(We’ve seen the important image of the vine elsewhere in the Tanach – in Isaiah 5:1-3; Hosea 10:1, 14:7; Psalm 80; and in the NT, John 15:1-8.
Israel is the vine God planted in the Land (Psalm 80:9). God gave it love and direction, hoping for a rich harvest of “grapes.” The people Israel abandoned the garden and let it become overgrown and unproductive. They blew the mission for which they were established.
This is a metaphorical account of the people’s turn to idolatry, injustice, hubris, and arrogance, and away from justice, righteousness, mercy, love, and compassion.
But, unlike Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel focuses here on the base wood, which not only becomes valueless instead of valuable as the bearer of grapes; its destiny, like Israel’s here, is destruction by fire.
We see a lovely reference in 19:10 to this image of how and in what manner this vine was planted.)
D. 16:7-18 - Where along this path of God’s blessings and bestowed riches do people go wrong and stray away?
(We had every advantage. We grew, had great “charm” (beauty) and mature development. But we were then “naked and bare.” (We didn’t have much to show for it and were without (mitzvoth?) (We were disclosed without clothes/ornaments to hide behind?) (Is this like Adam and Eve, we found ourselves naked and were headed out of the Garden?)
God came by and clothed us. Some say this refers to God’s showing up in the bush to begin the process of redeeming us from Egypt and establishing a covenant with us.
God cleaned us: washed us; anointed us with oil (blessed us and gave us a special place of honor and service); provided garments and other ornaments (as in priests), and fine ornaments, riches, crowns associated with royalty. This suggests all that came with the Tabernacle/Temple, with esteem around the world (as evident in the reigns of David and Solomon).
Was this gifting and blessing excessive? Did this cause the people to be spoiled as Solomon may have been? We were “exceedingly” beautiful. Verse 13
Starting in 15, we see the people go off track.
The people trusted in their own beauty (thinking it was due to themselves), philandered with their fame (were disloyal to God and Divine ways, thinking they were just fine with Him, taking advantage of His trust and love), poured harlotries upon every passerby (were missionaries to others of harlotry instead of God’s ways), turned the garments (priestly, made for the Temple) into harlequin platforms and philandered upon them (gaudy, made for cheap entertainment, even for improper sexual attraction), took sacred objects and God’s gifts and used them for idolatrous purposes, and used all sacred objects similarly.)
E. 16:60-63 - In a chapter devoted principally to rebuke, we come upon these verses. What do we learn here?
(Even though there are consequences for our having sinned repeatedly and for a long time without turning and repenting, God always is open to our return, remembers our covenant and considers it everlasting.
Is this a new covenant or an extension of the existing and made eternal? It certainly re-affirms the old, (remembering the old and then making a b’rit olam suggests it becomes eternal).
F. 18:1-9, 20-23, 26, 30-31 - There is a major advance (change? clarification?) in ethical understanding in sacred text. What is it? Why is it made? Why do you think it comes here?
1. Let’s look at 1-2 first. Fathers eat unripe grapes; sons’ teeth become blunt. This reflects an earlier sense that children are punished for the sins of their fathers. Is that just? Or should the standard be different? Now look at 3-9.
(We see in Exodus 20:5, 34:7 that God does appear to visit sins of fathers on sons. But in Deut. 24:16 we see that children do not die for sins of their fathers. How do we reconcile?
Sanhedrin 27b says they do when they grasp the deeds of their fathers in their own hands (when they, however otherwise righteous, continue and are involved in and presumably benefit from the wrongdoing or fail to disavow/repent, if benefitting).
But, in 3-9, a person is only accountable for his/her own actions/sins. 14-17 shows a son who does not imitate his father. Verse 20 states the new ethic.
This is akin to what we discussed when a decree is issued against the community. Is the individual involved or acquiescent or in any way tied to the community’s sin, or has he disassociated from it? Remember the community extends over generations.
God’s extending kindness to thousands of generations partly suggests that part of the reward of the righteous goes to descendant, just as part of the wicked one’s punishment is that a descendant who clings to the ways of father clings to punishment.
This change in Ezekiel may be possible because Moses had such high standards and expected individuals in a community to be so conscious of obligations and the effect of going astray they could take and abide by such a stringent expectation.
As communities weakened, especially after dispersions, this became unrealistic and actually unjust. There was no longer the Temple, which tied all generations together and helped sustain a good community. Afterwards, people were on their own, standing before the Creator.)
2) Now note the ways/actions of the righteous in 5-9: just and righteous acts > without idolatry, respecting neighbor and wife, living in moral ways, chaste, no oppression of others, honest, remembers debts, no stealing or robbery, charitable, not haughty or oppressive.
Nothing gets in the way of a relationship between a person and God.
Akiba: one can’t do all these but certainly can do some and as part of a fabric of good.
Notice this person “shall surely live.” What does that mean?
(It’s a good life in this world, eternal life, and some combination.)
3. Verses 21-23 complete the picture. How?
(Human beings are not perfect. They stray. God knows this and welcomes back those who sin, hoping for their turning and repenting.
Once one turns away from one’s sins and begins to safeguard God’s decrees and justice and righteousness, one “shall surely live.”
But when even a righteous person turns away and does iniquity, he shall die. 26. This may seem severe, but it appears that where we land is where and how we’re judged. Plus, it’s bad when a person who has received blessings gives it up to go wrong.)
4. Verses 30-31 wrap it up. How?
(There’s no block to the individual from doing right and certainly none for doing teshuvah and then getting right. Doing the latter gets you a “new heart and a new spirit.”
This wipes out the past. The sinner can regenerate himself. The sterile fatalism of the earlier ethic has no basis in reality any longer. This suggests that one can re-make oneself – one’s heart and spirit – by getting right. What a hopeful and reviving notion!!)
G. 20:40-42 - This is a statement from God about what the Divine looks for from us in the Days to Come. It seems to be what God always expects of us. What is it?
(We SERVE God (avad – serve also means worship, cultivates). This evokes God’s pleasure. God delights in our offerings, assuming they’re made in the way of serving God.
By our pleasing God and God’s gathering us in, God’s Name will be sanctified in the eyes of the nations. So, this is how we should live!)
H. 21:14-15 - These verses suggest that the use of the sword in reproving the people’s sinfulness may cause both great sorrow and rejoicing. We understand sorrow. But how might it be the cause of rejoicing?
(This is indeed a part of a dirge because God is sorrowful at the fate of His children. But, as in Deuteronomy 28:63, God rejoices when people return after being chastised.
The people had strayed and done wrong, and the wrong kept escalating. The punishment was severe, as by a sharp and burnished sword. (Hirsch and Hoffman, and Artscroll)
There’s a sense, though, that once the people had been afflicted with punishment, whether it’s for them or a remnant, God keeps the path open to return, as we studied earlier. And for that merciful invitation back, especially if we atone and repent, we rejoice.
Yet, there’s uncertainty here because the dirge appears to continue on as the amount of punishment to come is still great.)
Rashi suggests, quite to the contrary, it’s there to say: “people, are you still thinking it’s time for rejoicing?” Radak thinks that the people might still be thinking the sword is meant for others.