The wood of a vine isn’t useful. If a vine isn’t fruitful, it’s wood isn’t harvested for making anything else–not even a peg to hold up a coat. It’s only good for burning. This is the analogy God gives Ezekiel to describe his people. They have no fruit, and their wood is worthless. All they’re good for now is the fire of God’s judgment. It’s a harsh metaphor, 15:1-8.
But the word picture that comes next is even darker.
God describes the Israelites as an abandoned newborn, thrown out into a field and struggling to survive, a bloody baby no one wants. But God came along and took pity on her, brought her home, and raised her with the best of everything–food, clothing, riches. He “spread his garment over her,” a phrase meaning he became her protector, as a husband. He made vows with her, too, symbolizing marriage. He says, “…you became mine,” 16:1-13.
He made her a queen, praised by all who saw her for her beauty, “‘And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect,’ declares the Sovereign Lord,” 16:14.
But she became proud of her beauty and used it to attract the attention of other lovers. She wasn’t content with God as lover. She wanted the love of the rest of the world, too. God calls her a prostitute who “lavished [her] favors on anyone who passed by and [her] beauty became his.” She dabbled in idolatry, she depended on her neighbors and not God, she dedicated God’s babies to other gods and watched them burn, 16:15-26.
She forgot her husband who lavished his love, and she forgot who she had been, the unwanted one. “In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood,” 16:22. Her worship in his temple became duty, a check mark, not passionate love. She saved that for her idol lovers.
It got worse.
God says she was so promiscuous, she became more than just a whore. At least whores accept payment. Rather than getting paid for her favors, she gave them away for free. She even paid her lovers to take them, bribed them with gifts. There’s sexually implicit language here that makes me blush. What God describes is lust beyond bounds, without restraint, raising the bar for immorality beyond what even her pagan neighbors did. She made them blush.
But God’s not blushing. He’s jealous and enraged. He calls it like he sees it, “You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband!” 16:32.
As wicked as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were, God told Abraham he’d spare them if he found ten righteous people there. But here God says that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job appeared before him, they couldn’t dissuade him from his plan to judge Jerusalem. Even if these three righteous men lived there, their presence wouldn’t spare anyone but themselves, not even their own families, 14:14, 16, 18, 20. Jerusalem worse than Sodom and Gomorrah? The men there circled around Lot’s house and demanded to have sex with the strangers in town he was hosting overnight, Gen 19:4.
If God rained down fire and brimstone from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah, what will he do with Jerusalem?
God says he will hand Jerusalem over to her lovers who will strip her bare, rape her, take everything she’s got, and then? They will “stone you and hack you into pieces with their swords. They will burn down your houses….” 16:40-41. Besides war and and the sword, he will bring fire and famine, plague and wild animal attacks. Some will escape, and when they get to Babylon where the exiles are, it will be obvious by their immoral behavior why Jerusalem was judged. They will all agree: God was just, 14:21-23.
So where’s the love? I’ve got my antennae up. Even in passages like these, ones of judgment with words like “hack you into pieces,” I want to find the love, because God never leaves it out. He can’t. It’s who he is. And love is what I’m looking for when it comes to reading God’s word. I John 4:8,16.
Where is it?
He’s the loving Father who found an unwanted baby and doted on her. He’s the loving husband who provided for her and protected her and decked her out in finery. He’s the one who wanted to make their relationship permanent, so he made a covenant promise to always be her God, to continue to give her all that she needs. Her promise was to listen to his words and to love him back. And he’s the jealous husband who hollers, “Whore! You love all of them and not me?!” I can hear the heartbreak in his roar.
A jealous husband might have mixed motives in his jealousy, but not God. His is pure and righteous. God’s holy and he’s flat out furious. What is God’s motive in his wrath and judgment? To mow down his people and teach them who’s boss? To control and intimidate them into service?
God’s judgment isn’t done in order to subjugate Jerusalem. It’s to remind her of him because she’s forgotten him. It’s to tell her who he is so “then [she] will know that I am the Lord.” It’s to bring her up short, to restore her, to remind her who she was and who he’s always been, 12:16.
God’s punishment is motivated by a love that wants her back, not hacked. After all her whoring and straying, he still wants her back? With a word picture as graphic as “whore,” I can’t imagine any husband taking her back, much less wanting to.
But God does.
Love is where his jealous anger comes from. It says, “You are mine, and I am yours. And even when you don’t keep your promise to me, I still keep mine to you. And I will do whatever it takes to bring you back–war, famine, plague, wild beasts. I’ll even incarnate as a baby and grow up to live and die so you can be mine. I’ll give my life to save yours. I’ll enable you to be faithful, give you my Spirit, and enjoy a love relationship with you that will knock-your-socks-off. Delight? Joy? Pleasure? Desire? Who do you think thought all this stuff up? That’s what I promised in the covenant. And I’ll never stop.”
You are mine.
And I am yours.
In the last verse of this passage, God says his wrath and jealous anger will subside against Judah, and “I will be calm and no longer angry,” 16:42. I think he has one eye on present day Jerusalem when he says that, and another on the Jerusalem of Jesus day–on Calvary and on the cross. When Jesus died, God unleashed all his holy fury against him for all the sins of every man, woman, and child. Why is God so pissed? Because sin and death and hell threatened to keep him from his beloved.
And he’s just not having it.
When God’s loving wrath was satisfied at the cross, the curtain in the temple was torn, the sun went out, the earth shook, terror gripped even the folks who’d just mocked. God’s love doesn’t quit. He loves with loud cries and tears as he weeps drops of blood and drinks the cup and pours himself out so he can fill us up.
There has never been a lover like our God.
And if all this is really true–if God really is the Lover-of-our-souls and the God-of-all-that-is–then what kind of One True Love would he be if he let us fool around with lesser loves and lose him altogether? Idolatry cannot be tolerated. His love won’t let him un-love. Tolerating our idolatry would be hating us.
Better a raging lover who comes after us and wins us than a wimpy one who lets us run off.
Jesus’ priesthood is compared to the traditional priesthood of men and is proven by the writer to be superior to their’s. The human priesthood was undertaken without an oath from God confirming it. It was also “weak and useless,” and unable to get the job done. No human priest could ever actually make the connection needed between a holy God and sinful people. What power was there in animal blood, after all?
What’s more, a human priesthood was just a temporary office until the priests’ physical deaths. And the offerings they made had to be done first for their own sin and then for others. They were appointed by the law and were weak, unable to do what was needed–to make payment for sin and make peace with God, for good.
But Jesus was confirmed by God’s vow that he would be a priest forever. He guarantees a better agreement with God–a “better covenant” and a “better hope,” so that we can “draw near to God.” He’s also strong and able to “save completely” those who come to God because he “always lives to interceded for them.” His blood offering paid for our sin because he was holy and blameless, pure and set apart, and had none of his own to pay for. He was appointed by God to be the “once and for all” sacrifice for sins, “made perfect forever.”
Clearly, Jesus is the superior high priest, the one who has gone into the holy of holies and opened the door so that we can go in with him to the party we’ve been looking for all our lives.
The good news sometimes feels just too darn good to be true.
“Praise the Lord.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord,
or fully declare his praise?”
Psalm 106: 1-2
Praise is how we thank God for his love that lasts,
the love that comes in to rescue and doesn’t ride past.
Who on earth can do it? Praise all God’s mighty acts?
You alone are our Lover. Let our praises blast.
My take away today is feeling overwhelmed by God’s love that doesn’t quit, that fights to find me and doesn’t let me go (Ezekiel). I’m overwhelmed by Jesus’ work that doesn’t quit, that fought sin and Satan to free me and keeps the door open and the light on to God’s heart. (Hebrews). And I’m overwhelmed by the truth that you’ve done so many praiseworthy things, no none can fully tell them all. Your mighty acts for me pull praises from my heart through my fingers (Psalms). God, you are so very great.
Sometimes it’s all I can do just to feel all the feels.
Astonishingly, the Proverbs selection for today echoes just what Ezekiel wrote about.
“Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming,
but who can stand before jealousy?
Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.”