September 14, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: First half of Book of Ezekiel

John F. FinkNext week and the following week, the biblical readings in the Office of Readings are from the Book of Ezekiel. This book contains 48 chapters, but the readings in the Office are selective to emphasize Ezekiel’s visions.

Ezekiel was the first prophet to prophesy outside the Holy Land. He was one of the 10,000 people exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. after the Babylonians—also known as the Chaldeans—conquered Jerusalem the first time.

He apparently had a large following among the exiles. He began his prophecies about four years after his exile in 593 B.C. and continued until 571 B.C. Throughout the book, he writes in the first person, but it’s not really an autobiography.

When Ezekiel and the other exiles arrived in Babylon, they were convinced that Jerusalem would be spared from destruction. God told Ezekiel otherwise so the first half of the book, which we read next week, consists of Ezekiel’s attempt to prepare his countrymen for Jerusalem’s destruction.

Therefore, much as earlier prophets in Judah had done, the first part of the book consists of reproaches for Israel’s past sins and predictions of further destruction. Those predictions came true when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

The book begins with Ezekiel’s call to become a prophet with his vision of four living creatures—later identified as cherubim—and God’s throne in heaven. God gives him a scroll to eat and then sends him out to speak God’s words to the house of Israel, knowing that they would refuse to listen to him.

Next week’s readings skip from Chapter 3 to Chapters 8 and 9 when Ezekiel has another vision. This time, he is transported in a vision to Jerusalem, where he witnesses the abominations in the temple followed by the destruction of Jerusalem.

Chapter 11 contains Ezekiel’s first prophecy concerning a new covenant that God would make with the exiles. God said that he would gather them from the nations to which they had been scattered and restore the land of Israel.

Unlike the former residents of Jerusalem, they would live according to God’s statutes and carry out his ordinances. “Thus they shall be my people and I will be their God” (Ez 11:20).

In Chapter 12, Ezekiel is told to act out a scene in which he dug a hole in the city’s wall and left like an exile. When asked what he was doing, he said that he was a sign to them, that the people in Jerusalem would be exiled, including King Zedekiah, who would be blinded before being taken to Babylon.

Jumping to Chapter 16, we read an allegory about Jerusalem which, although richly gifted by God, flaunted herself as a prostitute. It’s another prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction.

Chapter 18, the last chapter read next week, is a disputation on personal responsibility. Ezekiel says that no longer would a son be charged for something that his father did or the father for what his son did: “The virtuous man’s virtue shall be his own, as the wicked man’s wickedness shall be his” (Ez 18:20). †

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