When I was in youth group, I’ll never forget something that happened at a youth retreat. In the middle of one of the sessions, my youth pastor stopped the retreat and told us that he knew there was disunity in the group. I was a newbie, in 9th grade, and this was my first high school retreat. I was looking around the room wide-eyed, wondering what was happening, as I was not in the loop. My youth pastor said that we were not doing anything else on the retreat until we dealt with the disunity and broken relationships in the group. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I was interested to see where this was going. You could hear a pin drop in that room. Apparently, everyone else was also interested in where this was going.
It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear about a youth pastor concerned about disunity in his high school youth group. But what about the church? Are we unified? This week on the blog, we’re studying Ezekiel chapter 37, verses 15-28, and we’re going to learn that God has something to say about unity, and he says it through Ezekiel’s performance of a skit.
In our study of Ezekiel, we’ve watched as God told Ezekiel to do numerous prophetic skits. One time he shut himself inside his house; one time he built and played with a model of the city of Jerusalem, and then laid down on the ground outside for months. Another time he cut his hair, chopped it up and burned it. Due to Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry of skits, I’ve called him The Saturday Night Live Prophet, because the TV show Saturday Night Live features skits. Now in Ezekiel 37:15-28 God tells Ezekiel to perform one last prophetic skit.
Before we learn about the skit, remember that Ezekiel lives in Babylon, probably near the Euphrates River in what is modern-day Iraq. He grew up in Israel, in Jerusalem to be precise, the son of a priest. But when he was a young man, likely headed toward becoming a priest himself, the powerful nation of Babylon attacked and defeated Jerusalem, taking 10,000 Jerusalemites into captivity, including Ezekiel, transporting them the 900 miles to Babylon. After living there for a few years, and right around the time of his 30th birthday when he would normally have entered the priesthood, God called Ezekiel to be a prophet. All of Ezekiel’s prophesying, which by chapter 37 have been going on for about a decade, has taken place right there in Babylon, in the village of 10,000 Jews in exile.
As you read this passage, picture in your minds an ancient village in the middle east. There are people around outdoor cooking fires. Animals walk the streets. Children play. There are market stalls where people sell produce and wares. Ezekiel walks out of his house, to a place where his neighbors and villagers can see him. They know Ezekiel. He has been a prophet of the Lord for years, and they sometimes come visit him hoping to get a word from the Lord. Some likely think he is off his rocker. Some might wonder if his messages are really from God. Worse, his messages have been mostly gloomy, calling out Israel’s sin and predicting the destruction of Jerusalem. Not the kind of thing you want your kids to hear. In fact, I had to skip one chapter of Ezekiel because it is NSFW (inappropriate…yeah, the Bible is sometimes graphic). Some people in Ezekiel’s village probably saw Ezekiel coming and they walked the other way.
But in chapter 33, after years of prophesying that Jerusalem and the temple were going to be destroyed because of the people’s wicked rebellion against God, something different happened. All those years, the people could easily have said, “Yeah, right, Ezekiel. God would never let that happen to his city, his temple, his people.” They even had evidence on their side. When Babylon had previously attacked the city, and defeated them, which led to their exile, Babylon installed a Jewish puppet king on the throne, and Babylon did not destroy the city or the temple. It seemed that things were still okay. But in chapter 33 that changed.
In the middle of chapter 33 a man showed up with bad news from Jerusalem. Babylon had once again attacked the city, but this time Babylon showed no mercy and the destroyed the city, including the temple. This news meant all of Ezekiel’s prophecies had been true. This very bad news verified Ezekiel as an authentic prophet of God. The people, if they doubted before, now had good reason to pay attention to Ezekiel. But did they? Were they falling over themselves in a mad rush to learn from Ezekiel what God wanted them to do now?
Maybe, maybe not, as we learned at the end of chapter 33. The people were hearing information, but they didn’t allow it to lead to formation. In other words, they acted like they wanted to learn what God would have them do, but God says to Ezekiel, it’s just an act. The people just want to be entertained. They don’t want to change their ways. They had information about God, but they didn’t allow that information to change their ways. With Jerusalem fallen, with the temple destroyed, what we do know, however, is that God’s message has started to look toward a new future. In the previous few chapters we learned how God asks Ezekiel to prophesy messages of hope and restoration. God desires to give the people a new heart, and the Spirit of God will make their dry bones live. Now God has another message of hope through a new skit.
In tomorrow’s post we’ll learn about Ezekiel’s final skit.