Thursday, October 21, 2010

Large and Startling Images

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 60

Read: Ezekiel 12:21-23:39

Verse that stood out:
Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! - Ezekiel 18:31

The Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor once wrote of the challenges a novelist faces when writing to what she called a hostile audience: “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures." What’s true for the novelist is perhaps doubly true for the prophet.

Startling barely begins to describe the vision experienced by the Prophet Ezekiel. He wrote to a people who, puffed up by the messages of false prophets, assumed that everything in their lives was copacetic. They believed that any dangers they faced from foreign powers would be short lived and that life would return to normal quickly. Ezekiel paints them a picture in the most shocking of colors. Far from being faithful, God’s people have been faithless. They’re like a prostitute. No, worse than a prostitute. Instead of getting paid for their unfaithfulness, they’ve paid others for these illicit pleasures. The prophet warns that their unfaithfulness will result only in their shame. In the end, the very ones to whom they’ve run will consume them. These “lovers” will strip them naked, take all their belongings, and leave them for dead.

So graphic are the prophet’s words (some of them border on an NC-17 rating), we often miss the purpose behind the prophet’s speeches. Ezekiel is attempting to get the people’s attention. He’s attempting to make them aware of true danger in their lives. He’s attempting to turn them towards righteousness. Buried deep in his shouting is this plea from the Almighty, “’But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?’ declares the Sovereign LORD” (18:21-22). The answer, given later in verse thirty-one, is "No, God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked." That’s ultimately what all the strange and startling pictures in the book of Ezekiel are about. A warning, a wake-up call, a wish for God’s people to awaken to their true condition, repent from their sins, and return to their God.

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