I’ve been listening to a compelling podcast called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. Mars Hill is the name of a megachurch in Seattle, Washington. It was a church started by a small group of people in 1996, but eventually came to be synonymous with its lead pastor, Mark Driscoll. At its height, the church had something like 10 extension campuses and 15,000 attenders. In the summer of 2014, after a series of accusations and troubles, the pastor, Driscoll, suddenly resigned. Rumors of problems had been whispered down the lane, but it didn’t seem like anything close to a resignation was coming. While he admitted that he could have been a better leader, Driscoll pretty much pled not-guilty to the church discipline brought against him. The accusations were severe, revolving around his brutal, aggressive and abusive leadership style. Instead of fighting the charges, Driscoll resigned and left. What surprised many people both inside and outside of Mars Hill is that the church fell apart rapidly. Within months, it closed. There is no Mars Hill anymore. Imagine that. A church of 15,000 done in a matter of months. And why? For many reasons, of course. One reason I would like to suggest is religious idolatry. We can worship celebrity. If the celebrity falls, others can fall with them, because those followers have placed the celebrity on a pedestal.
We’ve been studying the life and ministry of the prophet Ezekiel, and what God has to say in Ezekiel chapter 6 will speak to us about religious idolatry. Ezekiel lived in the city of Jerusalem about 600 years before the time of Jesus. The city was attacked by Babylon, who defeated Jerusalem and then exiled 10,000 of its Jews, including Ezekiel, back to Babylon. There they lived for five years, when God showed up in a glorious vision to Ezekiel, calling Ezekiel to be a prophet to his fellow 10,000 Jews, because they were rebellious. Curiously, God calls Ezekiel to communicate this message through skits. This week God has a new skit he wants Ezekiel to act out. Turn to Ezekiel chapter 6, and read verses 1-2.
There we read what we will hear over and over throughout the book, God speaking his word to Ezekiel. God specifically instructs Ezekiel to, “set your face against the mountains of Israel.” God will ask Ezekiel to “set his face” toward or against things at least nine times in the book. What does this mean, setting your face?
I am calling this the Prophetic Stare. To set your face is to stare, willfully, resolutely, and for a reason.
Through the prophetic stare, there is not actually any inner supernatural power coming from Ezekiel. Have you ever heard of superheroes who have laser vision? Or heat vision? That’s not what the Prophetic Stare is. Ezekiel is not like Superman with his laser vision. There is no physical power in Ezekiel’s Stare.
The Stare is, instead, like all of Ezekiel’s prophetic sign acts, a symbol of what God will do. God has the power. Ezekiel doesn’t. Sometimes God gave prophets power to do miracles. But not Ezekiel. Instead, the Prophetic Stare communicates a message about God’s power.
Therefore, the Prophetic Stare is better compared to a spotlight that is illuminating something. Maybe you have seen this on TV or movies when a police helicopter is chasing a suspect at night. The chopper is flying very low over the ground where the suspect is trying to flee the scene of the crime. A spotlight operator up in the helicopter shines a powerful spotlight back and forth, seeking to find the suspect. Suddenly the light reveals a person running like mad, and the suspect is caught.
The Prophetic Stare is like that. But the light shining from Ezekiel’s stare is not a massive ten million candle-power spotlight. Instead, the Prophetic Stare shines the light of God’s truth, exposing the reality of a situation. Through the Prophetic Stare, God is shining is light of truth and judgement on something.
Maybe you’ve experienced this. Have you ever been hiding something, and you get caught? Or maybe you’ve told a lie, and the truth comes out. I think that probably describes all of us at some point in our lives. So what hidden truth is God asking Ezekiel to reveal through this Stare? Keep following along with the posts this week, and we’ll find out.
In the rest of this post, though, I want us to consider how the Ezekiel would have looked performing the Prophetic Stare. Remember the context? Ezekiel is living in Babylon along with 10,000 of his fellow Jews who have been exiled there. He has already gained a reputation for performing skits. Here in chapter six we read about the third prophetic skit. The first was in chapter three (which I blogged about starting here), when Ezekiel was to go to his house where people would tie him up, and God would make his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth so he couldn’t speak, that is, until God freed his tongue to speak only and precisely what God told him to speak. Then last week we learned about the second skit, in chapters 4 & 5 (which you can read about starting here), and it was a doozy. Ezekiel was to build a little model of Jerusalem being attacked, then lay down on his side 430 days, eating a very specific diet, and cooking over cow manure. Likely he was performing the skit outside where people could see him, and I suspect the other Jews wondered if he had lost his mind. That second skit got even weirder when, at the end of the 430 days, he shaved off his hair and beard with a sword, dividing the hair up equally in three parts, burning one third, chopping up one third, and throwing the other third in the wind. Why? All of it was a prophetic message of judgment against Israel.
Now today we have another skit, and I want you to picture in your mind as Ezekiel walks out of his house, into to the street out front. People in the ancient world didn’t stay inside like we do. They lived in the hot middle east, and there was no such thing as A/C or ceiling fans or window fans. So they would find shade outside where the air could move more easily. Many of Ezekiel’s neighbors would have been outside. There would likely be people walking on the street. So imagine, Ezekiel walks out of his house, in view of his neighbors and passersby, and he stops and stares.
A man in my church family and I were recently talking about the weirdness of Ezekiel, and this man, who has been a fireman for decades, told me that he once went on a fire call to a local apartment community. When the firemen got there, the person living in the burning apartment was standing outside the burning apartment. Stark naked.
Get this, she had cut her hair, put it in the sink, took off her clothes, set the house on fire, and walked outside where she waited. What would we do if she said, “God told me to do it as a sign”? We would do exactly what the authorities did with her. They committed her to the hospital. My friend said that when she was released, she went back home and set her house on fire again! Think about that. She’s not altogether different from Ezekiel, right? Minus the property damage. My point is that people are watching him. You can imagine people in the street, especially kids, saying, “Oh look, look, look, here comes Ezekiel out of his house! What’s he going to do this time?” This time he walks out the door, and he stares.
Did he allow his eyes to wander around, or did he keep them fixed straight ahead? Furthermore, did he stare a long time? Maybe he was just standing there like a statue for a while? I wonder if people tried talking to him, “Watcha looking at, Ezekiel?” Did they get up close to his face, wave their hands in front of him, saying, “Earth to Ezekiel, earth to Ezekiel, are you there?”
Who was Ezekiel staring at? And more importantly, why would God ask him to stare? We’ll talk about that in the next post.