If you tell people that you wake up every morning and have a “quiet time” for bible reading, they probably imagine you with a kind of ready-brek glow, reading words of wisdom and tranquility, with a saintly half-smile on your lips. Ezekiel takes that “thought for the day” portrait and rips it up.
“Behold, I will deliver you into the hands of those whom you hate, into the hands of those from whom you turned in disgust, and they shall deal with you in hatred…and the nakedness of your whoring will be uncovered…A cup of horror and desolation…you shall drink it and drain it out, and gnaw its shards, and tear your breasts…” (Ezekiel 23)
We almost have no frame of reference for this kind of language. It is vulgar to our western sensibilities. What can be the purpose of it? Do we treat it as the ravings of a lunatic…like those straggly guys wearing “end is nigh” signs? Is Ezekiel just a shocking performance artist, a kind of twisted entertainer whose message is essentially impotent?
The book of Ezekiel fundamentally challenges you if your purpose in reading the bible is simply to have a spiritual cupcake for an enhanced sense of wellbeing.
Ezekiel forces us to consider: how does God get through to people who repeatedly brazenly ignore him? Have you any idea of the magnitude of the sin when a person intentionally defies God in this way? What experiences do we have to which this might compare? Ezekiel goes to great pains to show us. Ezekiel is even called to go beyond using mere words, and has to act out his prophecies, in order that his listeners might see, taste, smell and touch the message which God has for his rebellious people. God, though angry with these people, wants to ensure they have every possible chance to contextualise and understand his message to them.
God suddenly kills Ezekiel’s wife: not to punish Ezekiel, but to use the very language of death to communicate his message. Ezekiel is told not to mourn her loss, that the people might see how they themselves are acting this way towards God. They risk losing their glorious God, just as Ezekiel lost his wife. Why do they not mourn?
God has a serious and profound message to communicate to mankind. It is the message of the gospel: it is ultimately a message of the greatest hope. But we cannot ignore that a significant part of that message is about sin, rebellion and unfaithfulness, and these things must somehow be confronted and dealt with.
Ezekiel is like God using an expletive to get his people’s attention. To what lengths will God have to go to get yours?
“As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I take no delight in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” Ezekiel 33:11