Friday, May 13, 2011

Ezekiel 20

Ezekiel offers a date we regard as mid-August 591 BC, referring to the seventh year of exile. The elders of the Exile came to inquire of Ezekiel, but the Lord rejected their inquiry. The Lord asked Ezekiel if he was ready to place judge on God's behalf.

The Lord comes as a witness against the elders, who are representing their nation. He chose the nation, and raised His hand in their presence, as it were, swearing an oath to faithfully draw Israel out of slavery and out Egypt. He promised to take them to their own country, the best land reserved just for them. He also swore to execute the Law of Moses generously in their favor.

They rebelled from the very first word of Moses regarding their deliverance, and at every step along the way. During the Exodus, during the Wandering, during the Conquest, and ever after when they had settled in the Land, the nation as a whole preferred the pagan deities, any deity except their own God.

Every time they turned from Him, He came very near to destroying them. Only because He wished to protect His own reputation among the Gentile nations did He withhold justice against their sins. Did it gain Him anything? Was His kindness and patience repaid? No, His own people had continued to embarrass His name among the nations. Over and over again, He reminded them, and reminded them yet again in the presence of Ezekiel: If people would simply embrace the most basic requirements of His Laws, their lives would be as good as it gets on this earth.

So the Lord rebuked the elders and told them to go away, stop bugging His prophets. Let them go and inquire of their pagan idols. Apparently the portion of the nation willing to obey Him was a tiny, slender minority. The nation as a whole would lose their place, and He would simply restrict His blessings to only those who were faithful. Some day, He would restore those faithful few to the Land, and hear their prayers, receive their offerings and answer their inquiries.

This promise came on two levels. In the literal sense, this would have been hyperbole, since the Returnees never quite rose to this level of commitment again. However, by seeing it as a parable, we realize He promises to make a New Israel, one which would not stray again because it would not be possible, since it was a spirit kingdom. Those who become the New Israel must do so in the Spirit, drawn from every Gentile nation, not based on DNA or the Law.

This becomes an issue when Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy of destruction arising from the scrub forest in the Negev. Those who face the south will have their faces scorched. Among other things, this is a warning not to turn toward Egypt, expecting some good thing to come from there, as it would only embarrass them. To this the people whined Ezekiel was using a parable and they couldn't understand. It's because they didn't accept the message in the first place. The Hebrew literature and language had been parabolic from the start, as was most of God's revelation from the very beginning. It wasn't out of reach; everyone spoke in parables to each other every day. That was Hebrew. Complaints of non-literal language was just an excuse to disobey.