If God were trying to get your attention, how do you think he would do so? Often when we go through a difficult time, we wonder if God is trying to get our attention. But think about what you know of God’s heart. Does it sound like him to zap you with hardship, when he could get your attention in so many other ways? I don’t think so. Of course we can learn through difficult situations, and God desires to redeem them, but that doesn’t mean he causes them.
So how does God strive to get our attention?
In our study of Ezekiel, God has been trying to get the Israelites’ attention. He asks Ezekiel to perform some bizarre skits specifically because he wants to communicate with his people who have turned their backs on him. This week we have been studying Ezekiel 6, and the skit God asks Ezekiel to perform is what I have been calling The Prophetic Stare, where Ezekiel is to “set his face against” something. You can read the first post in the series here. But would The Prophetic Stare grab people? Or would they just think that Ezekiel is weird? Just in case the people outside Ezekiel’s house aren’t listening to him as he preaches this while he is doing the Prophetic Stare, God tells Ezekiel to do something else in this sign act. Read verses 11-14.
If people were not listening to Ezekiel as he stared off in the distance, abruptly he pauses his sermon and he starts clapping his hands together, stomping his feet and yelling out “Alas!” That surely caught their attention. I can see people stopping in their tracks, turning to find the cause of the commotion. What did they think of Ezekiel’s display? Did they think he was dancing? Or throwing a tantrum? Or that he was possessed? Or just out of his mind?
What they should have seen was a God who deeply loves them though they were mistreating him; a God who is desperate for reconciliation, desperate for healing, desperate for his love to be reciprocated. This is a prophetic cry of anguish that seeks to wake the other person out of their self-focused slumber and back into communion with God.
Interestingly, verse 12 has a bit of warning. Notice the words: “He that is far away will die.” Who is God speaking to that might be “far away”? Well, Ezekiel and the other 10,000 Jewish exiles lived far away from Jerusalem. 900 miles away. In Babylon. That, too, could get their attention. God is saying, “Just because you are no longer living near the mountains in Israel [which we talked about in the previous post], don’t think you’re off the hook. I am just as concerned about your adulterous, rebellious behavior here in Babylon.” The destruction that will come to the idolatrous high places erected by the adulterous people of Israel will be a sign to all that God is who he says he is. As he concludes in verse 14, then they will know that he is the Lord.
Why does God warn them? Because they weren’t living like he was their Lord. They had allowed their worship, their beliefs, their faith, their allegiance to be given to false gods! They did so in ritualistic ways up there on the mountains, at the high places, when they lived in Israel. Even now in Babylon, they were not living for God.
So for the remaining two posts in this five-part series on Ezekiel 6, I will attempt to apply what we have been learning this week about idolatrous ritual worship to contemporary Christian worship practice. I have been a member of and worshiped, for nearly all of my 47 years, at three churches here in Lancaster: Grace Baptist, Westminster Presbyterian, and for the past 19 years, Faith Evangelical Congregational. If you attended worship at any of those three in the past 50 years, you would find them fairly similar. Yes, they all have unique elements, and they have gone through changes, but I suspect most long-term attenders of any of those churches would not describe their worship as ritual. We just call it “worship service,” but it is ritualistic, and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. A ritual is simply an act that is repeated for a larger purpose.
Think about how worship services are ritualistic. In most worship gatherings, they involve people coming together every week to sing, pray, study God’s word, give and fellowship, all out of a larger purpose to worship God. It is true that we are to worship 24/7, so that we view all of life as an act of worship to God. But because Ezekiel 6 focuses on the false, idolatrous ritual worship of the Israelites, it is important for us to examine ourselves to discover if there are any ways in which we can allow ourselves to practice false worship.
Is your church worship service idolatrous in any way? Check back to the next two posts in this series, as I will suggest some ways that Christian worship can become idolatry.