Have you ever had one of those moments when you prayed, “Lord, what is going on with my life?” Have you ever had a moment when it seems like things are going off the rails, and you know the classic bible verse, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” but you think, “Easier said than done.” There are times when it is very difficult to trust in God.
As we continue studying Ezekiel, this week we are at chapter 24. In this chapter, there are two ways God asks people to trust him. The two ways are very different from one another. Neither way, though, is easy to trust him.
In verse 1 Ezekiel tells us that God spoke to him on a very specific date. It was the ninth year, tenth month and tenth day.
Do you know your wedding anniversary? Do you know your spouse’s birthday? You kids’ birthdays? There are some days you really want to remember. In verse 2, God tells Ezekiel that this date is very important for a reason. God says, “Remember this day, Ezekiel. Write it down.” God is about to tell Ezekiel why this day, which scholars tells us is January 15, 588 BCE, is important. It is important because the main prophecy God has given Ezekiel has come true on that very day. Do you remember the prophecy? We have heard about it over and over and over. The prophecy is that the army of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem. God is saying, “Ezekiel, right now, as we speak, the army of Babylon is attacking Jerusalem.”
I find this fascinating because in those days, there was no internet or global news. You and I are so used to having instant information about any place on the planet whenever we want it. We can see live images from all over the world. A friend from church recently told me that there is a bald eagle’s nest on nearby Gibbons Road, and the PA game commission has a webcam placed there so you can watch the eagles. Amazing! Remember that Ezekiel is living in Babylon which is about 900 miles from Jerusalem. In 588 BCE, it would have taken a long time for word to travel that distance. There’s no webcam. Yet here is God giving Ezekiel real-time info about what is happening in Ezekiel’s hometown of Jerusalem.
The info from God is very bad news. Like we’ve heard many times, God has been communicating this news to Ezekiel for years. God asked Ezekiel to perform skits, tell parables, and even transporting Ezekiel in a vision to Jerusalem, all for the purpose of telling the 10,000 Jews living with Ezekiel in Babylon that the destruction of Jerusalem is inevitable. Now God says, “Remember this day, because Babylon is attacking Jerusalem, right this very moment. The Babylonians have erected siege works around the city.” A siege is when an army surrounds a city and chokes it out, not allowing anything in or out.
Why don’t they just bash down the walls of the city? Wouldn’t they want to get it over with? Waging war is expensive, and if you get it over with fast, you save a lot of money and heartache. Maybe Babylon wanted the Jews inside to suffer, because a siege would eventually lead to starvation. Or it could be that the city walls were so fortified that the Babylonians could not break down the walls, so they simply had to wait, slowly starving the people inside. Some sieges could last weeks, months or even years.
If you are Ezekiel or any of the other 10,000 Jews living in Babylon, this news would be awful to hear. Jerusalem was their hometown. Think about the emotions they would have been feeling. I have talked with some people who have watched their hometowns deteriorate. If you grew up in Pennsylvania’s coal or oil areas, you might have lived through the boom times when it seemed like there was an endless flow of money. But time went by and the oil dried up and the coal was gone, and slowly those towns floundered. You know where Quaker State and Pennzoil get their names from? Pennsylvania! The northwest section of the state used to be home of the headquarters of those major brands, but no more. Travel through the oil district, and it is rough. It’s difficult when your hometown has lost its luster.
That’s what the people of Jerusalem could be thinking and feeling when they hear that the powerful army of Babylon has laid siege to their city. They probably had lots of family and friends still living there. To top it off, the temple was there. Though they had thoroughly abandoned God, they still had a deep emotional connection to that building, the symbol of their land. How would you feel if a foreign army attacked your land and destroyed a national heritage site? If you are an American reading this, how would you feel if the White House, the Pentagon, the Statue of Liberty or any of our other national landmarks were attacked? Many of you know exactly how you would feel because you felt it on 9/11. It was scary and unsettling.
But what do you do when you are 900 miles away? There’s nothing you can do. Especially not in the ancient near east. When 9/11 happened, my family and I were in Jamaica, watching it on TV, distraught, feeling helpless, wondering what in the world is going on at home. Not a fun place to be in.
I wonder, though, if the Jews living in Babylon with Ezekiel might not have believed him. They are in Babylon, and it was Babylon that was attacking Jerusalem, so it very well could be that they knew the Babylonian army was deployed and even headed towards Jerusalem, so maybe they weren’t surprised. We just don’t know, though because Ezekiel has been prophesying this very message for years, and it has never come to pass. All those skits, all those parables, and sometimes the straight up prophecies like Ezekiel chapter 7. None of it came to pass. Perhaps the people doubted. Remember chapter 20, verse 49 where the people said to him, “He’s just telling parables.” It seems the people didn’t listen to Ezekiel.
I wonder if that’s why God has Ezekiel write down the date. Have you ever done that? It is kinda fun. We say, “Mark my words. You will remember this day.” Then you write it down on a piece of paper and put it in your wallet in front of family or friends. That way you can verify it when what you say will happen actually happens. Likewise, God is saying, “OK, Ezekiel, these people won’t believe you, so write it down. Today. This very date. Write it down. Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem.” That way when word from Jerusalem gets back to Ezekiel and the other Jews living Babylon, even if it is a long time into the future, Ezekiel can pull out the paper and say, “Told you.”
It’s risky, though, isn’t it? It means Ezekiel has to trust in God that this word of the Lord is true. Would you make that bold step? What if you’re wrong? What if you heard God wrong? What will happen if word gets back to you and your fellow Jews in Babylon, and it turns out that the date is wrong? You’ll be revealed to be a fraudulent prophet.
God has asked Ezekiel to do all manner of difficult, risky stuff, hasn’t he? Well, recording a date isn’t even close to most difficult thing he will ask Ezekiel to do, in this chapter.
In the next post we’ll see where this goes.