Ezekiel - Session Three
I. Re-Cap and Introduction
Note: all of the scripture passages are available on the study guide page
A. 22:1-2 - Jerusalem has so many glorious names elsewhere in the Tanach (city of peace, Righteousness, of God, Faithful City) and in Ezekiel (HaShem is there); here it is called the City of Bloodshed. The chapter explains the use of the name. How could it be so?
(Nahum had used this term for Nineveh, the capitol of the capital of the awful/deadly oppressor of Israel, Assyria. Ezekiel’s denunciation here and elsewhere of Jerusalem is unparalleled in scripture – degradation, deafness to call for greatness, lost touch with its soul, distorted sense of Torah through forgetfulness, denuded of holiness.
But, as to bloodshed, why? Perhaps it’s murder (judicial murder?), and/or distortions of justice, or even offering of children as part of idol worship. It could mean separation of body and soul, so that when the land loses its soul, for example, it no longer yields its gifts to the people.
So, perhaps a city of bloodshed is one from which the soul is banished.)
B. 24:16-18 - Why is the prophet not permitted to mourn the devastation, which involved perhaps the loss of his own wife? How does a leader who loves the people refrain from mourning?
(First, generally God expects of his prophets that they maintain a balance of absolute commitment to God’s ways with a love of and identification with the people. Here God orders Ezekiel not to lament, not to shed a tear, to silence his groan, and not perform mourning rites.
* Recall that the High Priest can’t mourn family members who die.
* This separation by Ezekiel gives seriousness and sobriety to those who witness it.
* Also, it gives others a sense that the verdict can’t be changed, and that Ezekiel, who might otherwise have been sympathetic, is signaling that what is needed will occur and will be what it will be.
There’s no further opportunity to delay. The people must come to terms with it all, which creates the basis for change – finally.
* Ezekiel must wall off emotions that might affect him or even cause him to beg for another chance for the people. It’s coming, and it’s inevitable to bring pain and loss, that he must accept and bear, as do they.
* Also, this must cause Ezekiel to identify with the people to some extent and understand their pain. This will give him the authority to lead them.
As to the prophet, their dealings with him must now be true. Now, as painful as it is, there’s a foundation for understanding and, hopefully, for turning back.)
C. 25:8, 12, 15, 26:2 - How do Moab and Seir, Edom, the Philistines, and Tyre offend God? Why are they unable to preserve the “victories” God has given them? What are we learning more generally about God’s expectations of people who “benefit” from Divine favor?
(As to the latter questions, God does not tolerate people’s living outside the ethical framework given them, especially when they’ve been bestowed Divine favor. If they’ve played a designated role and they become arrogant, thinking it’s due to their power, and engage in awful behavior, God will take it all away and put them back down.
1. Moab and Seir deny God by saying there was nothing special about Judah, who stands for His people. Their speech was insulting to God and the chosen ones.
2. Edom wreaked vengeance against Judah, especially enjoying the destruction and fierceness. Some say they stood on the outskirts and killed those who managed to escape Jerusalem.
This suggests a cruelty not to be tolerated, over and above anything that might be appropriate.
3. The Philistines also show rashness and intense hatred that are unacceptable, such as the vengeance in 2 Chronicles 28:18.
4. Tyre’s problem was that its success was dependent upon Jerusalem’s destruction. It’s wrong to build success on the foundation of another’s destruction.)
D. While God (through Ezekiel) condemns the wrongdoing of these nations, we also see in chapters 27 and 28 God’s direction to Ezekiel to sing a lament specifically for Tyre. Why? What might this - broadly put - mean? Read 27:1-6, 33-34; 28:1-7. Also, look at 28:13-17, which describe it beautifully.
(This was a great nation. It had might and beauty. That Ezekiel expressed such a powerful lament on behalf of another nation shows the great commitment of the prophets (and God) to love and mercy for all people. Their truths apply to all people.
But just as Israel can fall, so can other great nations. The prophets speak with care for all. The Bible is a book for all people. God is God for all people, and all people are capable of receiving God’s favor and blessing, as well as His opprobrium.
We recall Hiram’s part in helping David and then Solomon with the building of the Temple with, among other things, the cedars of Lebanon.
Their sin was their too-great pride, thinking they were as if gods. With all their wisdom and discernment, they got rich and, then, haughty. When people or nations believe they “get it all” by themselves, God levels them, and others take away their wealth.)
E. In the closing chapters of the book, Ezekiel’s role moves from one of sentinel to one who develops the response to the fugitive. This happens as the book turns from the theme of destruction to consolation. Let’s look at 33:1-5 and then 33:10-16 and consider how this is so.
(When we go astray and a prophet warns us, we should take heed and get right. But once punished, the prophet lets us know that God seeks our return and welcomes us back.)
F. Let’s continue our study of the metaphor of the people as sheep and God as the shepherd by reading 34:13-19, 22-30, and 36:37-38.
(We see the idea of David, a shepherd for the people, mentioned again in 37:23-25. This could be the Messiah. Christian commentaries see it as a prefiguration of Jesus. What do we make of verse 24, where we see that “in my ordinance they will go and My decrees they will guard, and perform them?”
Of course, there is room in this text for a wide variety of beliefs important to both Jews and Christians – all the way from the way of Jesus to the preservation and the continuing place of the Torah. In any event, there’s explicit support for the place of the Text, Torah, the Bible.)
G. Consistent with the theme of renewal that closes out the book, Ezekiel focuses on God’s commitment never to abandon a covenant He makes with people. Read 36:7–12 and 22-30.
What makes for a new heart and a new spirit? Note in 27 that the new heart and new spirit are to serve to the end that we go by God’s decrees and guard God’s laws and perform them. What does this mean?
(Ezekiel is the first prophet who described the evil within us through the metaphor of stone. This idea of stone is related to a sort of passivity, as opposed to the active force others see in, say, the evil inclination, which is antagonistic to us.
There is here an intractable, unresponsive lethargy, which can weigh us down and make us unreceptive to the stimulation of the spirit. (Maharal, et. al.)
God proposes to exchange this heart of stone for a heart of flesh, one that is pliant and ready to submit to God’s ways. (Rashi) This leads to a new spirit that would ensure that we follow God through “a renewed frame of soul.” (Matthew Poole’s Commentary)
What we see here is similar to the idea of the circumcised heart. Deut. 30:6
People with this new heart and new spirit will be likelier to be stronger (supple, fresh, active, responsive) in their faith to God and God’s Instruction and ways and less committed to material lures and ways. This is a new disposition, and a needed one to make for success where there’d been failure in living in Godly ways.
This is how we truly become God’s people who can dwell in the land with God’s blessings.
H. In 37:1-10, we read of life being restored to what were dead bones. How do we interpret these verses - literally, metaphorically, or more narrowly in the context of this “return from exile” narrative?
(There are numerous explanations of these verses, beginning with several ideas about the identity of the people who were buried here. We won’t discuss them here.
Could this be about resurrection? It surely could, and it could suggest some early thinking about resurrection of the dead in the Bible.
Could it be about the revival of the people after exile and their return to the land?
The idea I suggest we ponder at the end of our study is this: no matter how far we stray and no matter our exile, there is always hope for us. We can always be revived . There is always a spark of hope, of life, even in death.
We are always capable of being revived, whether it be physically or spiritually (37:5), or both.
This ultimately is about redemption at the deepest levels.
II. Conclusion - There are several more significant passages in this book, including those regarding Gog in Magog (38 and 39), amazing detail about the Third Temple (40-48), return of the Glory of God to sacred space (43), requirements for operation of sacred space that appear new and different than provided for in the Torah (44 and following), and the new name of the city of the Temple.
We don’t have time in this course to explore these fascinating ideas. Maybe we can return to them.
What are our biggest takeaways of this remarkable book?