Sunday, September 18, 2011
Scripture Sunday: The Book of Ezekiel
Ezekiel is a rather difficult Old Testament book to talk about, mainly because Ezekiel's prophetic visions are somewhat weirder than average visions. Average prophets (if you could even apply that word to prophets) kept foreseeing doom and telling people to repent, but now the doom has already come. The worst has happened, and the nation of Israel is already being held in captivity in Babylon. Offhand, I would guess that Ezekiel's visions are weirder than anyone's have been heretofore because he's on the final frontier--his country has been decimated and removed to another place, so it seems natural that he gets his message from God kicked up a notch.
Ezekiel is by the river Chebar in Babylon when he says, "the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God." And what he sees is kind of brain-frying. There's a fiery whirlwind, and inside he sees four cherubim. Far from looking like those chubby diapered cupids in Renaissance paintings, cherubim are described as having four faces; a lion, ox, eagle, and man. Something like this, perhaps:
So Ezekiel preaches repentance to the people, because God has set him up as a "watchman," meaning that he's sort of a lifeguard. It's his job to warn people when they're doing evil and risking the wrath of God, which is shown in 3:17-19--"Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." Ezekiel is being held personally responsible if he does not point out to people that they're on the slippery slope of severe consequences. That's a huge responsibility, there.
The end of Ezekiel actually looks toward a hopeful future for Israel, when God shows Ezekiel visions of a new Temple, which really had to be very comforting after all the traumatizing things Ezekiel had witnessed and lived through. This is a common theme in books of the Bible--once the judgement has passed, there is always a chance for redemption.