I’ll focus on chapter 24 this week because it brings us to the close of the first major section of the book. The devastation, which the LORD has been promising, begins in this chapter. Even Ezekiel’s contemporaries were mocking the prophet for being ‘all words’ but nothing ever happened (12:21). Chapter 24 marks the very day when the words of the LORD commence fulfilment.
For 21 chapters, the Sovereign LORD has been communicating through Ezekiel that he will avenge judgment on Israel for their detestable practices. These have been idolatry in every obscene way and worse than all of the other nations. The people of God have been blessed by God and totally abandoned the beautiful relationship He initiated and nurtured and fought for. Ezekiel has described the way that Israel will be seized and totally destroyed by an enemy power under the authority of God.
Chapter 22: The appointed years have come to an end. You are infamous among the nations and mocked. Your ways are detestable: bloodshed, careless, violations, extortion – you have forgotten Me! You will be scattered and melted. You’ve made no distinction between holy and common. You whitewash your evil deeds like divination. I will pour down my wrath on you for all you have done.
Chapter 23: The Story of Two Daughters. There’s a strong link back to chapter 16 in this chapter. Samaria and Jerusalem are described as two daughters. The former was a whore and the latter saw their sister and did the same, only worse! So, drink your sister’s cup! Lewdness and whoring judged. Idolatry, defiling the sanctuary and adulterous – blood is on their hands. “You will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.”
A specific day in history is recorded when King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1). Ezekiel is in exile and being informed on the very day of the raid that it is happening from God. Notice that God refers to himself as the Sovereign LORD and in the parable that follows and the rest of the chapter, he describes what he will do to Jerusalem. Although Nebuchadnezzar is the man on the ground, he is a pawn in God’s plans.
A parable concerning a cooking pot. The imagery is difficult to understand. At first it sounds like an act of punishment – being boiled in the pot. But the imagery of the pot has been used elsewhere in Ezekiel and it’s best to be understood as a description of safety. Ezekiel 11:2-4 describes some wrong advice: that staying in the city is a good thing like the best meat placed into the pot rather than being the rubbish that gets seared directly onto the fire. Seeing the metaphor as a good thing, helps to understand the parable in chapter 24 (hopefully). The pot is the city and the meat are the cream of the crop in the city.
Verses 3-5 describes the scene of a great meal being cooked. The best meat into the pot to be cooked. With Ezekiel 11 in mind, this is a good image.
Verses 6-8 may describe the meat being removed from the place of safety. They are placed directly onto rock to be exposed, not drained into the earth, but increase their scorching by the fire outside the safety of the pot (city).
Verses 9-12 shows the aggression of the LORD’s anger to increase the temperature of the fire and to totally scourge everything in it. The pot will be boiled dry and then placed directly onto the hot coals.
The parable is followed up with the overall intent of its message. You will now receive the full sum of your judgement for what you have done.
The second half of the passage is where I’d like my groups to focus their attention.
Is there anything hard to understand in these words? The meaning seems plain to me. The LORD told Ezekiel that something heart wrenching was going to happen to him and that he is not to go about the normal ritual of mourning and lament. The “delight of [his] eyes” was taken from him. The LORD had Ezekiel’s wife die. The words are not unclear but the subject is difficult to digest. Does God hate Ezekiel or his wife that much? Is God punishing either of them or just making a point? Is the point worth ending a person’s life for?
Those who will struggle with this image may well need to meditate on what their idol is. Is God able to take whatever he pleases or not? The LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Isn’t that true. At the risk of sounding cold and heartless (which I am not) God’s word is concerning eternal life and eternal truths, not restricted to this life we live on earth. People die every day. While writing this sentence, statistically speaking, 34 people have died in the world (www.medindia.net/patients/calculators/world-death-clock.asp). When people hesitate to love and trust God because a loved one dies, does this mean that our loved ones are more important than every other death that has occurred? Either God is Sovereign or he is not! Either he has got an understanding and control of suffering in this world, or he has not. If not, then suffering is as powerful or more powerful than God. What’s my point? That true worship of the Sovereign God must admit that God is aware and able to stop our suffering – but he chooses not to or even orchestrates it. I do not mean that he is to blame for our suffering, but that he is Sovereign over it.
So, why take away Ezekiel’s wife? It’s to make another vivid point to Israel. And the message is about the Temple.
The death of Ezekiel’s wife and the instruction for Ezekiel to not mourn was a message of what awaits Israel. The sanctuary of God, which Israel took pride in – “the delight of [their] eyes” – will be desecrated, and the people’s sons and daughters will be killed by the sword of the Babylonians. The people will not react with mourning and weeping but with groaning and wasting away because of their own sin. Their focus will not be on what they have lost but on what they have done and failed to do.
The tense of this paragraph is interesting to note. The LORD speaks through Ezekiel to say what God is saying and directs the message to the people, and then Ezekiel speaks the same tense but uses his own name in the third person. The sense given is truly that God is speaking!
On that day, everything they found delight and joy in will be taken away. They have turned their backs on God, treating him like he is of no value to them (see chapter 16) and they will lose what they had held dear to them.
The prophet was told back in 3:26-27 that he would be unable to speak unless given words from God to speak. This is best understood that general conversations from Ezekiel’s mouth was restricted to the judgement messages from God. In 24:27 Ezekiel’s speech is promised to return when the fugitive comes to him with the news about Jerusalem. The silence of speech would be an added sign of judgement and the restored speech may indicate a sign of restoration to come.
New Testament insights
Read John 2:13-25 – especially verses 18-22. Jesus was angry at the misuse of the temple and taught that this temple needed to be rebuilt. He gave a sign to tear down the temple and he will rebuild it in three days. A couple of links with the Ezekiel passage are: a) the misuse of the temple even while the people thought highly of it, b) the passion of Jesus to cleanse the temple of its evil practices, c) the solution for Jesus was to see the temple torn down, d) the further instruction is for restoration. The difference is that Jesus was talking about his own body – God’s dwelling place – and that he spoke of the resurrection. Jesus would certainly undergo God’s wrath before the temple (his body) was rebuilt (the resurrection).
The judgement of God cannot be avoided. It will come and everything we hold dear and precious will be taken from us. What the people of God need is not more time to reform but a total demolition and rebuild.
- The people of God did not hold dearly what God holds dearly: the covenant of relationship between God and Israel. They were delighted in the temple building, in their sons and daughters and their city but neglected the first priority which is to God. We can prioritise the good things in this life to the extent that God is overlooked and abandoned in our hearts. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, body and soul. Then love your neighbour as yourself. The Christian way is not “family first” – it is “God first” and this is the best for our families.
- There is a worse fate than death. It is to live without glorifying God.
- In all my blessings I will give thanks to God. In all my grief I will acknowledge the Sovereignty and love of God.
Prayer for the week
Sovereign LORD, may we never hold so tightly to the things of this world that we might resent knowing you. May we know you fully and trust you with everything that we hold dear. Amen.