Does it sometimes seem like God is unfair? Over the years in my role as pastor, when people lose a loved one, they often not only ask “Why did they have to die?”, but also, “Why did God do this?” They will even ask why God took their loved one if that loved one is very old and died of natural causes. We often wonder what God’s responsibility is when we lose a loved one. It is extremely difficult anytime a close family member or friend dies. We don’t want them to die, and we can feel as though it is unfair. So we look to the one who could have done something about it, and didn’t: God. But is it God’s fault? The shocking events we read about in the final section of Ezekiel 24 will surely give us cause to ask God if he is at fault for what appears to be an unnecessary evil.
To recap what we’ve studied so far in Ezekiel 24, God has said to Ezekiel that on that very day Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem because of the people’s actions of bloodshed and lewdness, and the result will be total destruction. Imagine hearing that your hometown, including family and friends living there, would be destroyed. Awful news, right? To illustrate that, God’s next prophecy for Ezekiel is perhaps one of the most shocking things you will read in the entire Bible. Let’s start with God’s intro in verses 15-17.
God uses cryptic language here. He says that with one blow he is going to take away the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes. What could that mean? Is he going to make Ezekiel blind? That would be pretty awful. But then God says that after he takes away the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes, Ezekiel is not to mourn in the customary fashion. Mourn? Mourn for what? His eyesight? No. In verse 17, God said Ezekiel is to mourn for the dead. But he is only to groan quietly. Customarily in ancient Israel, mourning the dead was a loud, wailing affair, including a special clothing and food. God says Ezekiel is to mourn for the dead just with quiet groaning. I personally appreciate that because I am not a big fan of loud wailing, or even loud groaning. In that culture, though, loud mourning was normal. By asking Ezekiel to do what is not normal, God is once again putting Ezekiel in an awkward position. But that’s not even the half of it. We still didn’t answer the question of why he is mourning the dead. Who died?
Look at verse 18.
What?!?! His wife? We didn’t even know he had a wife until this moment. How long has Ezekiel been married? Was it a happy marriage? Do they have kids? And think about this: the very first time we hear about his wife, it is because she died as part of a skit that God wants Ezekiel to perform? Wait…the skit involves the real death of his wife? What is going on?
Now do you see why this is one of the most awful passages in the Bible? In verse 19, things only get worse.
Ezekiel’s neighbors living around him in Babylon find out about his wife’s death, of course, and they ask him what her death has to do with them. With them? Why would Ezekiel’s wife’s sudden passing have anything to do with them? Why would they think such a thing? Isn’t that shockingly selfish of them, when it is Ezekiel that is going through the loss of his wife! Shouldn’t they be caring for him, consoling him?
Here’s why I think this scenario makes this situation even worse: the “skit” does have to do with them, as God explains that Ezekiel’s response to the loss of his wife is the same response the people will have to the loss of Jerusalem and the temple. Look at verses 20-24.
How about that? The day after his wife dies, God gives Ezekiel a prophecy for the people, and it is about Ezekiel’s wife. Imagine how difficult that must have been for Ezekiel. Before we look at what the prophecy is, I have to ask, “Did we just read that God killed Ezekiel’s wife because he wanted to send a message to the 10,000 Jews living there in Babylon?” Look at verse 16 where God says to Ezekiel, “I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes.” It sure seems like this is God’s doing. But think about what you know of God. Does God kill innocent people just to illustrate a point? It’s hard to know how to interpret this situation. Maybe she wasn’t innocent. Or maybe she was sick. Maybe she died of natural causes. We don’t know.
All we know is that she is dead, Ezekiel is mourning her loss, his neighbors find out, and they correctly have an inkling that this relates somehow to them. How does it relate to them? In verses 20-24 God says that just as the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes, his wife, has died, so the delight of the Jewish people, their pride and joy, the temple and city of Jerusalem, their family and friends still living in Jerusalem, are also about to be destroyed and die. The people there in Babylon will mourn discretely as Ezekiel has mourned discretely for his wife. And why? In verses 23 and 24, God says that this was their fault, the result of their sin, their rebellion. They broke covenant with God, turning their backs on their relationship with God. Finally, when they see their beloved city and temple in ruins, and when they learn of their death of their family and friends, then they will know that he is Lord. That’s what God is eager for. Not their pain, not their punishment, not their death, not the destruction of the temple and the city. God is eager to be known by them, to be in close loving relationship with them. It is difficult to read that it would take such severe pain for God to get their attention. Couldn’t there be another way? Does this make God out to be a monster? Killing one group of people to get another group’s attention? It sounds needy and sadistic, doesn’t it? But we have to remember that God did try to get the attention of the people many times and in many ways before. And for many years! Furthermore, he is not the one killing the people and destroying the city of Jerusalem. Instead, he is simply not rushing in to save them when Babylon attacks. God is allowing them to face the consequences of their sin and rebellion.
The chapter concludes with God telling Ezekiel that in the future a fugitive will arrive from Jerusalem to confirm the news that the city and temple and people there have in fact been destroyed. At that moment God will open Ezekiel’s mouth, and he will be free to speak. Free to speak? Hasn’t he been speaking all along? Yes, but only what God told him to speak, which we learned all the way back in chapter 3 verses 24-27, in the very first skit God asked Ezekiel to perform. That was the one in which Ezekiel was to go into his house and people would come, tie him up, and God would make Ezekiel’s tongue stick to the roof of his mouth so that he could not talk, except for when God gave him a prophecy to share. That is what has been going on these past 5-6 years.
That got me thinking. If the only prophecies God gave Ezekiel were the ones recorded in the book so far, the prophecies which we have studied from chapter 3 through chapter 24, that means Ezekiel hardly spoke at all for the past 5-6 years! Perhaps Ezekiel’s neighbors there in Babylon thought of him as the silent prophet. What that would mean is that when he did speak, because it was so rare, the people would hopefully pay attention. Did they, though?
Now God says that when the fugitive arrives, Ezekiel will be free to speak whatever he wants. A little preview: that fugitive will arrive 9 chapters from now. If all goes according to plan, we’ll study that after the new year. For now, in chapter 24, there are at least two important things we have learned about God’s heart. You can learn about them in the previous posts here and here, and then check back to the final post on Ezekiel 24 tomorrow, in which we try to make some practical applications to our lives today.