“You had one job.”
Do you know how many of these videos and memes are online? I spent too much time this week trying to find one to show you. There are so many videos and pictures of times that people had a job and didn’t do it right. Here’s a fun one.
It’s the human condition, isn’t it? We tend to shake our heads and get upset when people screw up, as if we never do.
The other day I was installing a ceiling fan in our living room, and I thought I had made all the proper connections. I hit the light switch, and to my great satisfaction, it worked. The fan light turned on. Then I hit the fan switch, and it turned the light off. No movement of the fan blades. After getting over my frustration and sense of failure, I called an electrician who helped me out real fast.
What I’m talking about is the common human experience of the vast difference between information and formation. In other words, it is very easy to get information, it’s a whole different ballgame to act on that information. In the “You Had One Job” videos and memes, we display people who were instructed to do one thing, but didn’t do it. The same goes for us as followers of Jesus. We can lots of information about what to disciples of Jesus do, but we don’t always follow through and do what that information says we should do. Our information about disciples of Jesus does not always lead to our formation as disciples. As we continue our study of Ezekiel, we’ve come to a major transition in the narrative, and what we will discover has everything to do with the difference between information and formation. Turn to Ezekiel 33, verse 21, and in this week’s five-part blog series, we’ll find out.
In verse 21 we read that this part of Ezekiel’s story occurs in the 12th year, 10th month and 5th day of exile. What does that matter? In Ezekiel chapter one we read that God first appeared to Ezekiel in the 5th year and 5th month of the exile. Do the math. How much time has passed?
Between chapter 1 and chapter 33, more than seven years have passed since Ezekiel started his prophetic ministry. Consider that it has been seven years since God stuck Ezekiel’s tongue to the roof of his mouth, making Ezekiel a Silent Prophet. Seven plus years of only speaking words that God gave him. Seven plus years of not talking freely. That’s why last week we had Silent Sunday. It is hard to imagine what Ezekiel’s life must have been like. Some of us appreciate silence more than others. Some of us can be quiet more than others. But seven years?
In college I had a friend who said that Lord told him to take a vow of silence. In class, he would still raise his hand to speak, and then he would start doing hand motions and pointing to his mouth to indicate he couldn’t speak. He made quite a show of it, which is pretty much the opposite of what God desires. When we are fasting, and a vow of silence is a form of fasting, Jesus taught us that we are not to draw attention to yourself. Then back in the dorm when no one was looking, he would talk. It was a sham.
Well, Ezekiel didn’t take a vow of silence. He had no choice. God shut Ezekiel’s mouth. I wonder how Ezekiel felt about that. In the 32 chapters we’ve studied so far, Ezekiel has barely mentioned the fact that he was silent. But imagine how it would feel to literally not be able to talk. When we lose our voice even for a short period of time, most of us get frustrated. We learn to make hand signals. We write messages on paper, or text them. My guess is that Ezekiel learned to communicate with hand signals as well. But after a while it would get really old, wouldn’t it? How long did it take Ezekiel to start thinking and praying, “Lord, please let me talk!”? Did Ezekiel eventually get sick of this strange and difficult prophetic life God imposed on him?
Last week when we talked about this in our sermon discussion group at Faith Church, I asked people how they felt about the silent sermon. Was it difficult? Awkward? One person made the comment that it was helpful to know there was an end point. A sermon lasts about 30-35 minutes. Most people can be silent for half an hour. That person is right. It is much, much easier to handle something difficult, or try something new, when you know the end is coming soon. But Ezekiel didn’t know when his silence was going to be over. At the beginning of chapter 33, he is 7 years into his mostly silent life! How long would you make it before you started mutinying against God? A week? A day?
If in fact all the prophecies of Ezekiel are the ones recorded in the book of Ezekiel, then Ezekiel’s prophecies during those 7+ were few and far between. That meant Ezekiel might have endured long stretches of hearing nothing from God. No doubt, when he did hear from God, sometimes it was amazingly cool. That vision where God transports him to Jerusalem, for example, was astounding. But I don’t know how long that memory would sustain me. Even if once per month God gave me an amazing vision, I think I could easily be very sick of not being able to speak. Frankly, I could become frustrated, if not downright angry with God, for imposing this silent life on me. Worse yet, Ezekiel would have had very little satisfaction that his prophecies were making much of a difference, if any at all.
But there is more to the story. God did give Ezekiel an end date. Back in chapter 24, when we learned that Ezekiel had a wife and that she died, God told Ezekiel that on the day God allows Babylon to destroy Jerusalem, a fugitive to escape the destruction and travel to Babylon. Ezekiel would then speak with the fugitive and Ezekiel’s mouth would be opened, and he would be able to talk freely. Further, God says in chapter 24, that Ezekiel would be a sign to the people, and they would know that he is the Lord.
So Ezekiel did have an end date for his silence. Kind of. Not a specific date. But at least he had God’s promise that his silence would have an end. And as we’ll see in the next post, that end is finally here for Ezekiel.