In the previous post, we learned that God’s people had covered their ears and closed their eyes, so that they could not see or hear him. They were giving God the cold shoulder. How does God respond? God does not close his eyes and cover his ears. He continues to call out for the people, and he does so by asking Ezekiel to perform another strange skit. Let’s read about it. Pause reading this post, open your Bible to Ezekiel 12 and read verses 3-7.
What is this skit about? Notice the word “exile” is repeated.
About six and a half years before this skit, Ezekiel and his neighbors living in Babylon had actually experience something like this skit depicts. They had been exiled for real. Babylon had attacked and defeated their home city, Jerusalem, forcing Ezekiel and 10,000 others to quickly pack some belongings and leave on a 900 mile journey, walking to Babylon.
When we humans go through deeply difficult times, we remember them, right? For Ezekiel and those Jews, their exile from Jerusalem to Babylon was a massive life change, one that was indelibly inscribed into their memories. They would remember the emotion of being forced to leave everything that was familiar, everything they held dear, likely saying rushed goodbyes to family and friends in Jerusalem, as Babylonian soldiers forced them to walk away. They had no idea what they were heading to. Think about the questions running wild through their minds: “Are these soldiers going to kill us? Where are they taking us? How long will it take to get there? Will they provide us food and water? Are they going to enslave us, forcing us to endure back-breaking labor every day? What is going to happen to us???”
Remember that people in the ancient near east were not globally-minded like we are today. They heard of Babylon, of course, but they didn’t have any images of maps in their minds. Travel was rare and difficult. The only exposure the average person would have of the outside world would be tales from rare travelers, or stories passed along the generations. For Ezekiel and the 10,000 Jerusalemites, then, their exile was momentous and unforgettable.
Now, through the skit, Ezekiel pretends to start off on exile again! Imagine the emotion it would bring up in their hearts and minds. It seems to me that this skit would get people’s attention. In fact, there is a repeated phrase in this section that my wife, Michelle, noticed when we were talking about the passage. Six times it’s in there: “while they watch.” Or, as in some translations: “in their sight.” God wants the people to see, people who have chosen to close their eyes to him. In this we see God’s heart. It’s like he is getting right in front of their faces, prying open their eyes and saying, “See me!” God wants to be known.
There was more to Ezekiel’s skit. He is to dig through the wall of his house, and he is to cover his face. What was that all about? It was theatrical, meant to get the people’s attention, God says, as a sign. A sign of what? Was God saying that they were going to be exiled again? Or was he saying they should pack up because they were headed home? What could Ezekiel’s skit mean?
Ezekiel obeys God, performs the skit, and the people watched him. Then the word of the Lord comes to him again, the next morning. Now read Ezekiel 12, verses 8-16.
God explains the symbolism of Ezekiel’s skit. We learn in verse 10 that the skit is an oracle, a prophecy from God, that concerns the prince of Jerusalem. As has been the case with most of Ezekiel’s prophetic dramas, we have God giving Ezekiel, who lives in Babylon, a message about people back in Jerusalem which is 900 miles away. This is a message the people in Jerusalem will almost certainly not receive in time to make a difference in their lives. In fact, they might never hear about this prophecy. So we could think it is a pointless prophecy. It is not pointless.
As with all the previous skits and messages, they are about Jerusalem, but for the benefit of the Jews in Babylon. Basically God is saying through the prophet, “Don’t be like your brothers and sisters in Jerusalem who are rebellious.” God is reaching out to the Jews in Babylon, pleading with them to return to him. Though they were covering their ears and eyes and turning their backs in rebellion to him, God is still reaching out to them. When he reaches out to them in the form of another skit, he says to Ezekiel that the skit is about the prince of Jerusalem. How could a skit about the prince in Jerusalem matter to the Jews in Babylon? Let’s talk about that.
First of all, who is the prince in Jerusalem? His name was Zedekiah, and in 2 Kings chapters 24 and 25 you can read his story. When Babylon defeated Jerusalem, and exiled the 10,000 Jews, including Ezekiel, back to Babylon, that exile included the current King Jehoiachin. Then Babylon installed Zedekiah, also a Jew, as the new puppet king, meaning he was supposed to do whatever Babylon told him to do. But he was an evil king, and he did not follow God’s ways. He also rebelled against Babylon, which would lead to Babylon attacking Jerusalem again and the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction.
In other words, God is saying that what Ezekiel acted out in the skit will come to pass in real life for Zedekiah. Babylon’s attack will result in the exile of the king in Jerusalem. He might try to escape through a hole in the wall, he might try to hide his face, but he will be caught. He will eventually be brought to Babylon, just like the 10,000 Jews six and a half years prior. In Babylon King Zedekiah will die, his staff and troops along with him.
In verses 15-16, God repeats a familiar phrase we’ve heard him say many times in Ezekiel: “They will know that I am the Lord.” God really wants to be known by his people. Sadly, the people have chosen to neither see nor hear him, but when this prophecy of Zedekiah’s exile and death comes to pass, then they will know.
God wants to be known. That is a principle we can apply to our lives. This is God’s heart, to be in relationship with his people. He loves us, even when we are rebellious.
Hold that thought, as there is more to the skit in Ezekiel 12, and we’ll learn about that in the next post.