When we left Ezekiel in the previous post, he was staring again. The Prophetic Stare is when God asks Ezekiel to “set his gaze” against something. Remember that Ezekiel’s Prophetic Stare has no power; it is a symbolic gesture that shines the light of God’s truth on something. This time, as we read in Ezekiel 20:45-49, Ezekiel is staring at the south, which refers to the Southern Kingdom of Israel, called Judea, where Jerusalem is located. As Ezekiel stares at Judea, he eventually is to speak, God says, to the forest. Weird, right? A prophecy to the forest? I can imagine Ezekiel staring, and the people in his village gather around him, saying, “Tell us, Ezekiel. Why are you staring?”
Without breaking his gaze, he proclaims that God will burn down the forest. Forest fires are horrible, as we know from the awful situation in our western USA. The fire that Ezekiel prophecies goes one step further as he says it will not only be all-consuming, but he also says “every face will be scorched by it.” Face? That’s people he’s referring to. That’s terrible and graphic. Faces burning? I wonder if the moms shooed their kids away from Ezekiel as he said that. As with nearly all prophecy, this is figurative language, likely referring to the armies of a foreign power invading the land. God says it will be devastating.
In this story, God is again asking Ezekiel to prophesy using the method of allegory. Surprisingly, Ezekiel responds to God! We hardly ever hear Ezekiel talk back to God in this book, but look at Ezekiel chapter 20, verse 49, where he complains to God that the people in his village are saying to him, “He’s just telling parables.” Ezekiel is saying that the 10,000 Jews living there in Babylon with him are not taking him seriously. Would you take him seriously? Think about all the strange ways God has asked Ezekiel to prophesy so far. Not just the Prophetic Stare. But remember all those skits? Ezekiel also played with models. He laid on his side for over a year. He cut his hair. He had strange visions. He told parables. It seems that what God said early on had become reality, “Ezekiel, you will prophesy, but the people won’t listen.”
As I thought about that, I feel for Ezekiel. I don’t think he was one of the glamorous prophets. Though the elders visited him for advice, it doesn’t seem that he was a celebrity because his prophetic methods were so odd. I wonder if Ezekiel ever thought, “Lord, why don’t you give me a normal prophecy? Maybe a word of blessing for once. Even the words of hope you do give me are always mixed with terrible judgment.”
Notice that God doesn’t answer Ezekiel’s complaint in verse 49. Instead he asks Ezekiel to stare again. Read chapter 21, verses 1-5.
How about that? More staring and another parable. Ezekiel is now to stare at Jerusalem, and preach against the sanctuary, which is the temple of God. Some churches, like mine, have a large room where we gather for worship services, and we call it “the sanctuary,” but it really isn’t that. It’s just a big room that is convenient for meeting. The actual sanctuary, the holy place, was in God’s temple. What is Ezekiel to preach against the sanctuary and against the land of Israel? It’s another parable. This time the parable is about God’s sword, and he will unsheathe it, he says, against everyone in the land, south to north. This is another way of talking about a foreign army that will devastate the land. God concludes this section with the line that has become the most repeated, and thus most important line in the book, “Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Because God repeats it, I am going to talk about it again too: God wants to be known by you. God wants to be in relationship with you. Just as it did with his rebellious people Israel, his heart beats for you.
At this point, God asks Ezekiel to do another skit. Look at verses 6-7,
Ezekiel is to groan! Pause reading this, and do an experiment. Walk to the nearest place where there are at least a couple people nearby, stand among them and start groaning really loudly. Any takers? No? Too embarrassing and awkward, right? Imagine how Ezekiel must have been feeling! If I’m Ezekiel, I’m thinking, “Why can’t I just be a regular prophet?” Imagine his neighbors watching him groaning, saying to him, “Ezekiel, now what? Are you hurt? Do you need to the doctor?”
God tells Ezekiel to answer them, “I’m groaning to show you what you will do when you hear the news that is coming. It will make you groan.” News coming that will make them groan? Connect that with the prophecies we heard already, and it is pretty clear that the news will be what the Prophetic stare and parables of the forest fire and of the sword foretold. A foreign army will invade and destroy their beloved homeland, city and temple.
Skim over verses 8-17, and you read a poetic, lyrical presentation of the same prophecy, including verse 14 where God asks Ezekiel to clap his hands, and then verse 17, where God says he himself will clap his hands together too. This means the end is coming. You can picture Ezekiel there in Babylon calling out this poem, groaning and clapping his hands as he speaks it.
But we’ve heard all this before, haven’t we? From nearly the beginning of Ezekiel, God has asked Ezekiel to prophesy about the end coming for Jerusalem. I wonder if the people living in Ezekiel’s village there in Babylon were bored with his endless prophecies of destruction. They ought not be. Neither should we. As we continue studying Ezekiel 21-23, we’ll see how specific and practical this prophecy will be for us. In the next post we’ll more.