When she was little, my daughter frequently asked, “When will we get to the good part?” when we watched Disney movies. She’d get worn out waiting through all the plot twists to get to the reason she sat down to watch the movie in the first place: to see the wedding at the end, when the prince and princess live happily-ever-after.
I felt the same sort of tension as I read through chapters 24-26 this morning. There’s a lot of bad news. I’m impatient to get to the good part that I know is here–God’s love. Because this is God’s word, and it reflects him, (“God is love,” after all), I know it’s here somewhere. But sometimes it’s hard for me to find. Sometimes there are a lot of words to wade through first, and sometimes, like today, they’re not good ones.
First there’s the cooking pot analogy. God tells Ezekiel that Jerusalem is a copper pot, and its people are the choice cuts of meat inside that he will cook and cook until they’re gone. In fact, the fire beneath the pot is so hot, the metal pot itself melts and becomes unusable. Not only will its people be destroyed by Babylon, Jerusalem itself will become a ruin.
Where’s the love, God?
Then there’s Ezekiel’s wife, the “delight of his eyes.” God tells him she will be taken from him suddenly by death, and he’s not to grieve in the usual way, but may only “groan quietly.” Ezekiel has been nothing but faithful to God, sharing his words with the exiles even when they’ve been hard to share, and now what does he get? The death of his life-partner, potentially his only source of support and comfort in that foreign place. Ez 24:16-17.
Where’s the love, God?
God comes to Ezekiel on the day of ancient Jerusalem’s 9/11–the tenth month, tenth day of Ezekiel’s ninth year in exile, about 588 BC. God tells Ezekiel to write down this day, the day that Babylon lays siege to Jerusalem, the first day of what becomes its final destruction.
It’s so important a day in the history of God’s people that eventually it became a national day of fasting. But unlike what happened in America in 9/11, Jerusalem was completely decimated: it’s defensive wall was broken down all around it, its temple was burned into rubble, and its people were rounded up and moved out.
God gives Ezekiel a parable to speak to the exiles he lives among in Babylon, those who were brought there by the second wave of Babylonian aggression against Judah 9 years before. It’s the story of the copper cooking pot.
God says that Jerusalem, the city of bloodshed, is so encrusted by the shedding of innocent blood that it can’t be purified, “It has frustrated all efforts; its heavy deposit has not been removed, not even by fire.” God’s tried to clean it from its “lewdness,” but it refused to be cleaned, 24:12-13.
So it’s showtime: “The time has come for me to act. I will not hold back; I will not have pity, nor will I relent. You will be judged according to your conduct and your actions, declares the Sovereign Lord,'” 24:12-14, (for the story of Jerusalem’s lewdness, see yesterday’s post https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/11/November-11/).
God directs that the meat and bones in the pot be cooked until they’re disintegrated. The empty pot is to be set directly on the fire and left there “till it becomes hot and its copper glows so its impurities may be melted and its deposit burned away,” 24:11.
I’m looking for the love here, and I’m struggling. But something snags me about the “deposit” mentioned in the pot. I look back at verse 6. I see that the “deposit” is what has “encrusted” the pot: it’s a “deposit” that “will not go away.” In the very next verse, God mentions the blood Jerusalem has shed, the lives she’s murdered, and how she hasn’t had enough respect to cover that blood with dirt, “for the blood she shed is in her midst; she poured it on the bare rock; she did not pour it on the ground where the dust would cover it,” 24:7.
God’s law said that even the blood of animals was to be poured on the ground and covered with dirt, but the people of Jerusalem haven’t given human blood even as much respect as goat blood gets (Block and Feinberg, http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-24/). They’ve dumped out human blood–innocent blood we’re told elsewhere–on rocks, uncovered and uncared for.
This is the deposit—the blood of innocent victims that Jerusalem is encrusted with. It’s the deposit that cannot be burned off and cleaned out of the city. Even after the fire is stoked and the wood is piled high, it remains 24:6-9. While the people of Jerusalem may despise the blood of the innocent, God doesn’t. It’s deposited with him.
And it’s here that I feel the love. All those who have been beaten down and beaten up, murdered without cause for money, for land, for convenience, for power, for show (those babies murdered for Molech come to mind), all their blood hasn’t run off the rocks and been lost. It’s been a deposit that God has kept, a deposit so full against this city of bloodshed, that there’s no amount of burning that can clean it up, no punishment that equals its worth.
God hasn’t forgotten the innocent lives lost. He hasn’t devalued them as Jerusalem’s people have. Their loss is felt and held. God is on the warpath to avenge their blood in just the same way: he will “put (jerusalem’s) blood on the bare rock, so that it would not be covered,” and he will do so “until my wrath against you has subsided,” 24:8, 13.
No one gets away with anything. God’s justice won’t allow the innocent to go unavenged. Yesterday Hebrews said, “‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay…It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,'” Heb 10:30. God minds blood deposits, whether anyone else does or not.
I haven’t experienced anything close to this kind of persecution, but I’ve felt persecuted nonetheless. And there are folks around the world now, hiding and dying for their faith. I find comfort in knowing that God sees it all, great and small, and he doesn’t forget, and that one day he will make it right. I can trust that the God who cared for justice to this extent, to the point of the destruction of his once holy, now bloody city, still cares for justice today, and because he’s still on the throne, I can rest in his reign while I do my part.
From the cooking pot, I turn to the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes, his wife. The prophet tells the people that his wife will die and she does that very night. The next morning, he meets the exiles with his shoes on and wearing his customary turban on his head. He’s not undone and in sackcloth, sitting in ashes, as they would expect. Since he’s God’s prophet, the people wonder what it means for them, and he tells them, 24:15-19.
He says that just as God took away Ezekiel’s delight, God is taking away their temple, “the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection,” and the sons and daughters they left behind, who will die by the sword. And like Ezekiel, their mourning will be silent, because the grief will be so severe there won’t be any words or wails that can pull out its depths. They will have to endure it like a gut punch without an exhale, like a heartbreak without tears, because exhales and tears cannot give it relief. Why? Because they’re responsible for the destruction. God says they are guilty, and the grief is too deep to weep, “…you will waste away because of your sins and groan…Ezekiel will be a sign to you; you will do just as he has done,” 24:20-24.
There was a widely held belief in that day that because Jerusalem was the home of God’s temple, it was impervious to defeat. Even though God’s said otherwise for years upon years, they still hang onto the dream that they’re bulletproof. God lives here! We’ve got his house at the corner of Broad and Main! What can happen? (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-24/).
But God’s already packed up and moved out. Ezekiel has told them the story in all it’s cherubim-pulling detail, how God has left the temple and the city, lingering on Mount Zion on his way out. But for whatever reason, they don’t listen—or care what it means, Ez 9-11 (for the story of God’s exit in Ezekiel 9-11, see November 4).
The temple Solomon built was a magnificent building, the value of which I read somewhere was over a billion of today’s dollars. There was nothing else like it in the known world. Jerusalem was so famous for it, folks came just to gawk at it. Over the years, without the faithful teaching of God’s word, the people had lost worship and respect for the God who lived in it. They’d fallen into an idolatry of the building itself, as if because it stood strong, they did, too.
But when the temple was dedicated, Solomon himself said something they should have remembered, that God doesn’t live in a building made by human hands. “But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” 2 Chr 6:18. As grand as the temple was, it wasn’t as grand as the God who inspired it. He let his glory dwell there, but it was surely not only there. What’s magnificent about God isn’t any man-made notion we have of him. It’s God who is magnificent. It’s God who is our stronghold, our delight, the object of our affections. We can’t put our confidence even in our worship of him. Only the Rock is strong enough to hold us.
Ezekiel was made uniquely compassionate for both God and his people with the loss of his beloved wife. The prophet who spoke God’s words also felt God’s heart so that his words flowed from compassion, even in judgment. He didn’t just preach at these folks, telling them what’s-what. He felt their pain and grief right along with them. He’s lost the temple and his own loved ones in Jerusalem, too, and he’s also lost his life’s companion, the one who lived right beside him. His empathy is as fresh and real as his grief, and he’s been told by God not to show it. Ouch.
Ezekiel is also uniquely empathetic with God. I wonder if he felt a communion with God more profoundly because of the loss of his wife. God’s people were the delight of his eyes, after all. Many times he referred to them as his wife–in yesterday’s story, as a matter of fact. God had to feel the rejection of the bride who turned away from him time after time over generations, grieving her indifference and eventually the destruction he must bring in a last ditch effort to bring her back to himself. Ezekiel’s wife was faithful, but God’s is a whore, and he still wants her back.
How do I know? Because he says that the judgment he brings is so that his people “will know that I am the Sovereign Lord,” 24:24. It’s a phrase he uses over and over in the book of Ezekiel. God says a few chapters ahead that knowing him means knowing that he is with his people and that they belong to him, Ez 34:30. He also says that the exiles will know him as the God who sent them into exile and will gather them back, Ez 39:28. Knowing God is what his people do, not his enemies. God wants us to know and love him because he knows and loves us first. Gal 4:8; 1 Jn 4:19.
I’m feeling the love.
While the temple was no doubt a beloved structure even to God, it had become an idol for the people. And as such, it had to be torn down so that their delight and affection would be found in him. God had already said that those in exile would find his presence with them there, an unheard of idea for that time when it was believed that his presence could only be found at the temple, Ez 11:16. It’s not the doings of religion or our own devotion to God that connects us to him and gives us strength. It’s God who connects us. It’s Jesus’ doing. I don’t bring the connection; I just get to revel in it.
And it would be cruel of God to leave us in blissful ignorance about our idolatries because they leave us exactly without him. If he’s really who he says he is, the God of glory and of all that’s good in life, then life without him isn’t worth living. It’s actually not life at all, but a living death. God won’t leave his people languishing in any kind of death.
His is the deepest love, the kind that comes after us, that stops short of nothing–not calamity and collapse, not war and sword, not pestilence and plague, not virus and politics–to do whatever it takes to save. He shakes everything we have our confidence in, so that we have nowhere else to go but to him.
Why? Because he’s the only one who has what we need. Because he alone is God.
He sets our lives on fire to bring us to himself where he enters in, brings the spark, lights our hearts, and then sticks around to make s’mores. I’m a sucker for a happy end.
It’s God, for the win.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him,” 11:1, 6.
What do we hope for? What don’t we see? When I check back in the chapter before, I’m reminded of the context that verse 1 comes from, which is that our hope is in Jesus our high priest, who tore the curtain between us and God, and gives us the green light to go into God’s presence. This is just one of the things we don’t see. There’s a lot of other good things in that chapter, but the torn curtain–which to me means that the door is open and the light is on–always gets me.
I had a father who worked ’round the clock, it seemed, year ’round. Even on our vacations at the lake, he lugged his briefcase along and holed-up in his room to work. I always felt like he was unreachable and unknowable, and the fact that he was angry a lot made me believe I didn’t want to reach or know him.
But the truth is, like any child, I really did need those things. So knowing that God is reachable in prayer 24/7 because of Jesus who tore that curtain, and that God is knowable in his word 24/7 for the exact same reason, well, I cannot really tell you what it does for my soul, but it is exactly why I get up and go to him.
With an offer like that in front of a time-and-attention-deprived little girl’s heart, I go to bed excited to get up again. If there’s one thing I believe with all my heart, it’s this: the curtain is gone, the light is on, and I get to be in God’s presence anytime I please.
I look back at verse 6 above and see that faith is required for pleasing God. While my faith isn’t what tore the curtain, my faith that Jesus did it gives me the go ahead to go in, like a secret password. And of course, since I’m giddy, I want to go in and be pleasing to God. I want to bring him a gift, even.
What can I bring him?
I can bring him faith. This is what pleases God. And I read here that there are two parts of faith to bring: I must believe that God exists, and I must believe that he rewards me for earnestly seeking him. They’re like the two legs of faith.
And when I think about what they are, I realize that the first one just makes sense. I can’t come to God at all if I don’t believe he’s there in the first place. In order to talk to anyone, I’ve got to believe they’re actually alive and present in some way, even if it’s just by phone. Otherwise, I’m wasting my time.
Just as important as believing God exists is believing that he rewards me when I earnestly seek him. I can’t be pleasing without it. I’m trying to wrap my mind around this, because it seems awfully loaded in my favor.
It’s like your mom says on a Saturday morning, “OK, to make me happy, this is what I need from you today (and you brace yourself for the list of chores that no doubt starts with “toilets”)…
But instead she says, “I need you to believe that I’m standing right here in front of you.” Check. “And I need you to believe that I’m going to give you lots of rewards today if you hang out with me.”
It’s true. I know this sounds too good to be true. I have trouble grabbing hold of it, myself. But this is what faith is: it’s believing God exists. And it’s believing that he gives us rewards in exchange for our hang out time with him. In exchange for prayer and earnest Bible reading, in exchange for talking to him and finding out what he wants, we get rewarded.
And since God is the one who made sunrises and blueberry waffles and downy chicks, I’m guessing he knows better than I do what kind of rewards I’ll like.
I’m waiting for the trap door. Surely it can’t be that simple?
But it is. Hebrews says it right here. Check it out.
I say, bring it.
There’s a lot in this psalm that’s confusing, but I love the poetry of it. I once wrote a poem about getting up in the dawn to hang out with God, and I used the metaphor of him as a morning womb. I must have gotten it from this psalm, and I had no idea I’d plagiarized God. 😬 (Poem link below.)
“Your troops will be willing
on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth,”
But there is one thing I’m sure of here, and that is that Jesus is “a priest forever,” 110:4. And because he’s priest forever, he never dies, so he’s always alive and doing priestly things–like representing me to God, like finding out what I need, like defending and rescuing me, just to name a few.
Can life with God get any sweeter?
My take away today is God’s overwhelming love that does whatever it takes to bring his people into relationship with himself, handling us with respect and taking us to the mat if we need it (Ezekiel), and giving us the back stage, 24/7 pass into his presence, where we get to be front and center, the “delight of his eyes,” with Jesus chiming in. I give him my faith in him and my faith in the goodies he’s got stockpiled for me (Ezekiel, Hebrews, and Psalms).
Is it just me, or does he sound like Santa?
(Here’s the poem about God and mornings, http://onetruelove.blog/2019/11/09/four-thirty/.)